Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Personal Copy
This book would be rated: PG-13 for adult situations
On the subject of ratings, sometimes I'm not quite sure what to rate a book. For example, I just wrote my review of Life After Life, which is a challenging book where the author takes lots of risks, but still tells an engaging story. I gave that book four stars, because I generally reserve five stars for books that completely knock my socks off (usually less than half a dozen per year). Orphan Train is a more straightforward, conventional story, but it's also an interesting story and even a moving story. The critic in me wants to give it three stars for not being edgy, but the reader in me wants to give it four stars for being so captivating. Reader wins.
Orphan Train is really two stories-- that of Molly, a teenager trying to make it in the foster system in Maine in the modern day, and Vivian, a young girl who travels from Ireland to New York with her parents, and after losing her family in a devastating fire, she travels with a group of orphans to Minnesota, where the children find placements with families. The two meet in the present day when Molly ends up doing service hours (to avoid a stint in juvie) cleaning up the attic of Vivian's oceanside mansion.
I didn't know about the Orphan Train phenomenon, in which orphans or street kids from New York were rounded up and shipped out west, where the families who took them in might treat them like slaves and might raise them as their own. Vivian spent time with two of the former kinds of families before she was placed with one of the latter. Molly has had similar experiences since her father died and her mother couldn't keep her. The parallels are fairly obvious, but make for good storytelling nonetheless. The book was particularly interesting from the point of view of an adoptive parent-- especially the scenes where the children where put on stage and chosen by prospective families, and the sense of loss that Vivian goes through when she joins these new families.