Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I saw this book in the airport for the first time, and was immediately interested, as I've been fascinated by orphan trains since reading Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story. So I was excited to see a full-length novel about the trains.
This book interweaves two stories, that of Molly, a modern-day goth in the foster system, and Viviene, a 90-something woman whose house Molly must clean. Viviene was also orphaned at a young age and rode the trains west from New York, and her story comes out as she interacts with Molly. I couldn't wait to get back to this book every time I had to walk away. It was addictive and gripping as I went through it. I couldn't wait to see what would happen to Vivien next, how she'd escape each situation to make it to the life she has as a 90-year-old widow in Maine.
Although I understood the interweaving of the stories, and I did enjoy how Molly was able to help Vivien with technology and get her life more modernized so she could reach out to those in her past who she needed to reach for, I didn't find Molly's story all that interesting. There are stories of kids in foster care that are done with much more detail, brutality, and depth. Not to get too nit-picky, but for one thing, being a goth is expensive. Seriously. All that stuff costs a lot. There's a joke somewhere about how someone would have been a goth but couldn't afford it (it may be another book, I can't remember...if anyone knows, please let me know so I can cite it properly), and it's so true. So I wondered how Molly could afford the arsenal of goth gear while being in foster care with parents who didn't seem keen on sharing the wealth. There were several little things like that in Molly's story, things that weren't a big deal but just made her seem somehow fake. She was definitely not as developed as Vivien.
While Vivien's time with Molly was no more interesting than Molly herself, it was Vivien's time on the trains (and before and after) that so captivated me. Her life beforehand is only sketched, but her time on the trains is given plenty of time. And her time with each family afterwards is rich and multidimensional. She was a character I could understand and relate to, even though I've had virtually no shared experience with her. That's when you know a character is developed wonderfully, so much so that she becomes real--when you feel like you could have been her even though you have nothing in common with her. This character and her experiences and her life made you feel for her, root for her, become her. I love when a book grabs me and pulls me in, absorbs me so fully I forget reality. During the portions about Vivien's childhood, this book did all these things. Luckily, those parts filled most of the book, with Molly's portions being significantly shorter.
Age 14+ due to some violence and adult situations.
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