Friday, September 26, 2014

Laurie's Book Review--"Orphan Train"

I have some really great friends.  We don't see each other in person very much anymore, just on special occasions like class reunions, the county fair, things that don't happen on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.  We do keep up with each other on Facebook and other forms of social media, and always are there for one another whatever the need.  Recently, that need was suggestions of good books to read while a friend recuperated from a surgical procedure.

Another friend, a middle school media specialist, recommended the book "Orphan Train", by the author Christina Baker Kline.  Many more friends jumped into the conversation praising the book and what a mesmerizing, life changing, emotional experience it was.

About a month ago now, I came into possession of an Android tablet.  Since then, I have been trying out all the bells and whistles and becoming more familiar with the technology, including the Kindle app.  I got into the app and downloaded "Orphan Train" as my maiden voyage into the world of reading books online.

I was not disappointed.  I was stunned, emotional, changed.

I have been trying for a week to put words into sentences to describe what the book was about.  I even talked to myself out loud the other day in the shower, trying to compose a review for my blog.  I think the main gist of the story is lost and found family and just what the meaning of all that is.  The main character--Meevh, a nine-year old new immigrant from Ireland, is orphaned in a tenement fire and comes under the custody of the Children's Aid Society.  She is placed on an orphan train to the Midwest (the year is 1929) in hopes that she would be selected by a family for adoption or worse (i.e. indentured servitude in a lot of cases).  As a nine year-old, she is already considered too old to adopt for a family, so she undergoes a lot of miserable, terrifying experiences before the light of good fortune shines on her and a future begins to take shape.

The co-main character (the year is 2011) is Molly, a 17 year-old foster child who is about to age out of the system with no plans or prospects.  Her father is dead and her mother is an addict, and she doesn't really know if she is alive or not.  She has to perform community service in order to avoid jail time for the theft of a book from the library, and is matched up with an elderly lady who lives alone in a big mansion and needs help "cleaning" the boxes in her attic.

2+2=4, and Molly is matched with Meevh/Dorothy, who is now Vivian Daly.  The story follows both characters and their experiences through their formative years.  As they start to "clean" by going through each of the boxes, one at a time, the stories of both characters begin to weave themselves. Meevh/Dorothy/Vivian's life is a hard, horrible life full of loss, and in the nick of time--at thirteen years old--she finds a family.  But so many people leave her during the story--the baby she is forced to care for on the ride out west, the first family to pick her from the lineup, the horrible backwoods people, the teacher and boarding house owner who rescue her from the horrible backwoods people.  She meets again and marries a young man she met on the initial train ride out west, only to lose him in action in WWII.  She gives birth to their child a few months later, and decides to give the baby girl up for adoption.  She finds out that her youngest sibling did not die in the tenement fire, but lived and was adopted by the same neighbors who turned her over to the Children's Aid Society.

Molly, in turn, learns a lot about herself on this journey.  She is a kindred spirit to Vivian in the similarities of their lives, and gains some perspective on her life and where she needs to take it.  Vivian is comfortable enough with Molly to begin to share, to unravel all the issues of her past, and it helps Molly unravel hers as well.

Meevh's/Dorothy's/Vivian's life is a cycle of love and loss that would have done me in long before my time.  She developed an attitude of spunk and hardness that helped her survive her situation.  Although I was completely worn out emotionally by the time I reached the last page of this book, I know I will be forever changed for the better by having read it.  And I am so thankful for having friends with incredibly good taste in books.

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