Tag Archives: Christina Baker Kline

Book Club Reflection: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

20 Oct

I love when I find a winner with my book club and this is definitely a winner. I wrote a glowing book review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline a few weeks ago and this is my book club follow-up. A lot of the women in this group liked the book (along with our strong male contingency of one) but  not as much as I did. It made for a good discussion.

Two of us had heard of Orphan Trains before reading this book. That’s it! Kline picked a very small part of American history to focus on and I think that’s a winning combination because people feel they are learning while they read. After finishing this book, we all know so much more about a topic we didn’t know existed.

The book made several members want to know more about their family history. We can only learn as much from our grandparents as we gather before they die. I don’t know anything about my great-grandparents and its my grandparents who could tell me those stories. One member brought up a hypothetical question about if you could have dinner with five people, living or dead, who would they be? She’s always said her grandmother would be on that list because there was so much she wanted to ask that she never had a chance to do before her grandmother died. Vivian’s daughter was finally given the chance to talk to her mother and find out about her family history, even if it’s only the bit Vivian’s able to tell her.

A few of the readers thought the book was going to be about Kindertransport before World War II. (If you, like me, don’t know what this is, here’s the Wikipedia page.) In short, this was an effort to remove mostly Jewish children from areas that would soon be occupied by the Nazis and place them in the United Kingdom. Many of these children became orphans and in a sense, their story is like Vivian’s. They were adopted by those around them if their families didn’t survive the Holocaust.

The idea of trains going west reminded a few of us of Jim Fergus’s book One Thousand White Women. The idea of going west seems very permanent, as if those making the journey know they are leaving behind everything they once knew. I’m sure there are other books with this mentality, but these two stuck out to us.

Vivian’s life as an orphan reminded us too much of indentured servitude for us to be comfortable reading it. 200,000 children went through this train system and we only hear the story of a handful. Parts of the stories are wonderful and parts are frightening. It would be great to be able to say that Vivian’s story is unique, but it doesn’t seem that this is the case. This was the beginnings of social work and the system was not yet well established and the employees didn’t know how to deal with it. Take, for example, how Vivian’s near-rape was handled. Did the employee not want to admit something like that would happen, did he not want to deal with it, or did he not know how? Any way you look at it, the system did not have a way to deal with a child in Vivian’s situation.

A few members were bothered that the orphans were expected to work for their stay, but it was pointed out that in the Midwest with big farms and a lot to do, children were an asset because they could do work that the parents didn’t’ have to pay a servant to do. If the orphan had been treated the same as a natural child of the parents, they would still be expected to work the farm. In that sense, it makes sense that the children would be picked for their ability to work. It was the fact that the children were almost advertised for their ability to work that bothered us most. We found it interesting that, like today, babies were so high in demand. This is directly opposite to a child being able to work the land and pull their own weight. These children were wanted because the parents could raise them as if they were their own and shape their lives growing up.

Not everyone was a big a fan of Molly’s parallel story as I was. Though all together, we were able to draw a lot more parallels. Molly didn’t have the best placement life, much like Vivian, but it’s obvious that what’s considered livable has changed slightly since Vivian’s day. Molly was also hard to place because of her rebellious nature, not because no one was looking for a child like Vivian ran into. Maybe the system knew that Dina and Ralph weren’t ideal, but, like the Grotes, they were so desperate to place her that they did it any way.

Molly didn’t seem rebellious by nature, but she marked herself as one. Her Gothic clothing choices made her an outcast and it was a way to set herself apart without having to even talk. It was the easiest way to be alone.

Vivian and Dutchy finding each other seemed almost too perfect to be true. To me, it was the one part that was bit too much to believe. Their marriage seemed to be more about commonality and a shared history than it seemed to be about real love. We wonder if it would have lasted had Dutchy lived. Maybe having someone she could share her history would have been enough.

It seemed odd to us that she would give up her child when it was the only thing connecting her to Dutchy. Especially since she knew what a life without a biological parent could mean for a child. One thing that bothered a few women in our group is how Vivian would have explained to her friends what had happened to the baby. Would she have said she gave it up, or would she have led them to believe the baby was stillborn? A pregnancy isn’t normally something that can be swept under the rug so easily.

Maybe the reason Vivian didn’t have as much remorse about giving up her baby is because she knew babies were adopted by people who wanted a child, not a laborer. Like Carmine, Sarah would be adopted as a baby by a couple who wanted to raise a child.

Were orphanages a better solution to parent-less children than foster care? In foster care, a child can only stay in one house for a certain amount of time before they’re moved to avoid emotional attachment. In an orphanage, a child can be there for a long time, growing attached to other children and those who work at the orphanage. Today’s system works with foster care instead of orphanages, and while some aspects of it seem better, there’s undoubtedly drawbacks.

We felt that adoption is less common in today’s society than it was in the time of Vivian’s childhood. The main reason is that single motherhood is more accepted. Vivian couldn’t stand being a single mother but I think if my husband died in a war, I would still want to raise our child. I know I would be well supported and there wouldn’t be a negative stigma against me.

We wondered why children in books, movies, and real life are always looking for their mothers. Why not their fathers? Is there some attachment we have to the woman who birthed us than we do to the man who contributed the other 50% of our genes? I think I’d be equally interested to know who my father is. I think it ultimately comes down to knowing for certain that the person who gave birth to you is your mother while paternity is sometimes in question.

With so many books being turned into movies lately, we wondered how this book would look as a movie. We don’t think it would do well in Hollywood, but might be successful as a made-for-TV movie, something on Lifetime. It cleaned up almost too nicely at the end and had a perfect bow around it, which we don’t think mass audiences (including ourselves) would take too kindly to.

I apologize to the ladies in my group for how long this took! I’ve been busy moving, but I’m finally settled in my new place. We’ll be meeting to discuss our next selection, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King, in a short time.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 24-September-2014

24 Sep

Time for MizB’s WWW meme! No new progress this week, but it’s looking like there will be some soon.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I made some respectable progress in Canada by Richard Ford over the last week. It was my main read last week, but life got in the way. My audiobook of The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory is going well. I had a long car ride over the weekend and knocked out a few disks. My ebook is The Domesday Book by Connie Willis and as expected, this is a long haul. I’m 17% of the way through and that’s about 100 pages. Sit tight, we’ll be here for a while. The second section of Read Along #2 has begun and I’m working through Chapters 6 – 8 of The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I hope to finish it before Friday.

Recently finished: I’m sad to report there’s nothing new! I’ve made great progress in a couple, but nothing new for today. I may cry.

But book reviews! I’ve been doing pretty well on these so far. Check out my reviews for Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan and The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

Reading Next:  No new news on Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It’s still waiting at the library and I’m waiting for a miracle to finally get it! Hoping I finish Canada by Monday, I’ll start Misterio de La Guia de Ferrocarriles by Agatha Christie. The English title is The ABC Murders. A co-worker gave it to me before he returned to Mexico and I want to start it soon because he’s coming back! My book club meets on Monday to talk about The Orphan Train so I’ll be starting our new title, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King. I haven’t read a non-fiction in a while so this should be a good break.

Still trying to get through Canada. That’s my goal for next week! How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (5/5). Life sucks and it has always sucked and will continue to suck.

22 Sep

This book was recommended to me twice by two people whose opinions I greatly trust. The first is my mother. She’ll recommend a book to me but I know she really really liked it when she buys a copy for my grandmother and gives it to her, especially when it’s not for a holiday. And that’s what this was: one of those “You have to read this right this second I’ll drive to Ohio to give it to you” recommendations. The second person was one of my supervisors at work. She’s always reading and when we talk about books, she’ll sometimes tell me the book she’s reading is worth picking up and I’m seldom disappointed. This one she offered to give me because she had two weeks left on her library rental period. I waited a month for my book club to pick it up but I almost wish I hadn’t.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Molly has been around the foster care system long enough to know how things work. She’s well aware that her foster-mother can get rid of her in a heartbeat if she’s not behaved and that stealing a book from the library and being sentenced to 50 hours of community service is not exactly model behavior. Luckily, her boyfriend, Jack is able to find her some work helping 92-year-old Vivian clean out her attic. Molly comes to learn that Vivian isn’t just some rich old lady living in a huge house. Her roots are much like Molly’s. When she was 8, Vivian rode the Orphan Train that took her away from New York City and deposited her in the Midwest with no family and no guarantees for her future.

I started out very skeptical of this book. The foster care system structure immediately made me think of The Language of Flowers, which isn’t a bad comparison, but gave me some preconceived ideas of how Molly was going to act. But she blew me away. Her relationship with Jack was a lot more than I was looking for in a high school relationship and I liked that. I also got a lot more out of Vivian than I was expecting in her older years. I though Kline was going to present her as a pure storyteller without giving her much action in her older age, but she went beyond my expectations. Everything about this book was so much better than I thought it would be.

I thought the characters were brought to life very well. Kline gave them the layers the people I know have; a set of necklaces with meaning, a dislike of technology, being quick to defend one’s mother. This added a lot to the story for me because the characters jumped right off the page.

Jack was my favorite character. He was so supportive of Molly and went out on a limb for her when she needed it. For a high school boyfriend, he was very devoted and when Molly moved in with Vivian, continued to be supportive of what Molly needed, even if that wasn’t ‘normal.’ He tried to help win over his mother in Molly’s favor, which I know can be a challenge to undergo. He was a great side character and I enjoyed him a lot in the book.

I related to Molly’s frustration because I felt very caged in for a good chunk of high school. I wanted to be on my own and allowed to make my own decisions. I wanted to make mistakes. Molly wanted the same things, but the people holding her back weren’t her parents and in the case of Dina, didn’t even want her around. I sympathized with her anger and her desire to feel like her own person.

Christina Baker Kline Image via the author's website

Christina Baker Kline
Image via the author’s website

I loved when Vivian and Luke found each other. I thought it was the sweetest moment and it was just when she needed it most. She shouldn’t have been out with the two girls she was with any way, and running into Dutchy was so perfect. I thought it was a little predictable that they would find each other again, but I liked how Kline put it in a location no one would ever expect. It was a good curve ball.

I found it hard to read the times where Dorothy/Vivian was treated badly by her foster parents. Seeing her treated like a slave to make ladies dresses was bad enough, but the rape scene with second foster-father was even worse. I worried something like that would happen because I was just beginning to like him as a character. It seemed like whenever there was someone good in Dorothy/Vivian’s life, something was about to go wrong.

The way Vivian and Molly define family was a very prominent theme for me. Molly had an attachment to her late father, but didn’t seem to set down roots with anyone except Jack until she became close to Vivian. Vivian was able to find a bit of a family connection wherever she went. First it was Fanny, then her teacher, and lastly the Dalys. It seemed natural for Vivian to accept Molly as family. For the first time in a long time, she was able to find someone who defined family the same way she did.

Writer’s Takeaway: Juxtaposing Molly and Vivian in a lot of the chapters helped make this book more accessible to a wide range of readers. Elderly readers would relate to Vivian, younger readers to Molly and Niamh. The wide age gap, though it leaves a big range of readers who don’t relate, created a good dynamic. Being between the two characters in age, I related more to Molly and a younger Vivian, but elderly Vivian reminded me of my grandma and I still adored her. I think the diversity of the characters was a strong point of the novel.

Great story, great pacing, great characters. A full Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline | Maurice on Books
Orphan Train – Bookies Review and Author Christina Baker Kline Event | Book Journey
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline | Harrowing, yet Beautiful | Found Between the Covers
Book Review: Orphan Train | Literary Hoarders

WWW Wednesday, 10-September-2014

10 Sep

Time for MizB’s WWW meme! This week was full of finishing books, but I’ll be slowing down for a while I fear.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I was able to read some of Canada by Richard Ford but I’m afraid it’s been put to rest again for a while. Poor thing. My new audiobook is The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory. I’m a huge fan of Gregory and it’s made only more awesome that this book will fulfill the 1400s in my When Are You Reading? Challenge. My new ebook is The Domesday Book by Connie Willis which a co-worker recommended to me ages ago and I know my friend Katherine really enjoyed. It’s a clunker so expect to see that title on this list for a looooong time. The race is off for Read Along #2 and I’ve started in on the first section of The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. So far it’s pretty darn awesome. My copy is autographed so it won’t leave the house (my rule) so this might be a bit slower than I’d read the sections otherwise, but it’s coming along nicely. And because that wasn’t enough, I started our new book club selection yesterday, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I’m only a few pages in, but it’s really creepy! My guess is it only gets worse. Four new books started! Yay.

Recently finished:Three finished this week! I completed the audio of Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan and I’m glad to be done with it. I’m not a fan of the literary wives trend and read this because someone recommended it and I needed an 1800s book. It will be a less than glowing review when it comes out. I finished the ebook of The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka and I don’t think I can say enough good things about it. This short little book was really refreshing and I’m so glad I picked it up! I also finished  The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline in three days. That’s really fast for me! But I loved it so much. My mom, grandma, and supervisor had all recommended it to me and it did not disappoint. What an amazing story.

I also got three book reviews posted! If you’re so inclined to read more than my one-sentence reviews here, you can check out my full reviews of Looking for Alaska by John Green, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

Reading Next:   Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is still waiting on my library list. I don’t have much else waiting now because I just started so many! I know there will be more to come, but that’s for next week.

I’m not sure I’ll finish any this week, but I’ll try my darndest! How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 3-September-2014

3 Sep

Time for MizB’s WWW meme! This week was moderate progress but I’m still slugging through a few.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I’ve stalled reading Canada by Richard Ford but i can almost see the light of when I can pick it back up. I think it’s in about a month? The audio of Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan is getting close to the end. I’m on the second-to-last disk and I can’t wait to finish it. I’m loving and making good progress on The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. It’s written in a very compelling way, using a first person plural voice. I like it a lot. I’ve also just started  The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, which is my next book club selection. My mom recommended this a few months back and I was excited to see it on our book club list.

Recently finished: Just one this week,  Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. I read this so fast it was never on my ‘currently reading’ section. A co-worker lent it to me and I read it in three days. I want to talk to her about it, but this is her vacation week. Dang it.

And one book review for you all! Check out my review of Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn that I put up yesterday.

Reading Next:  I’m still waiting on Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett to come in at the library. I asked about a library bounty hunter position, but I don’t think she realized I was serious. I’ve got the audio for The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory in my car, ready to start as son as ‘Sky’ is done. This will fill in the 1400s for my When Are You Reading? Challenge and then I’ll only be one from finishing. Yay! Pretty soon I’ll be starting Read Along #2 and the book we’ve chosen is The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I met Umrigar about a year ago and she blew me away; what a wonderful woman. I’m excited to read this book! If you’re interested in joining the Read-Along, check out my post explaining what it’s all about and drop me an email.

Hopefully I can finish ‘Sky’ early this week. I’m ready for it to be over. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 27-August-2014

27 Aug

I was hoping for a bit more movement in MizB’s WWW meme because of Bout of Books, but I think I did it wrong. You’ll see what I mean.

www_wednesdays4The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:  I’ve stalled reading Canada by Richard Ford so I can read a library book… and then I’ll have a book club book… and one a co-worker loaned me. In short, this might be on hold for a while. The audio of Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan is progressing, but getting under my skin. The narrator is really inconsistent with the accents she’s given the characters and it’s driving me mad. I started a new ebook, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. It’s a nice short book so I hope this will move faster than most of my other ebooks have.

Recently finished: Two this week;  The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I finished it Tuesday afternoon last week in the airport but didn’t have a way to update my WWW from last week, so I’ll count it for this week. Last night I finished Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors and I’m sleepy because of it! I’m ready to start a new one at lunch.

Reading Next:  I’m still waiting on Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett to come in at the library. I’m almost giving up on getting this back any time soon. Maybe it’s worth reporting to the library? I’m not sure how that process works. I’ve got two books coming up soon. My next book club selection is The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I’m excited because my mom read this a while ago and really loved. I hope it’s a good discussion book as well. The other is one my co-worker is lending me, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. She and I have similar tastes in YA so I’m looking forward to a quick, solid read. I’ll crack it open during my lunch break in a few hours. Pretty soon I’ll be starting Read Along #2 and the book we’ve chosen is The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar. I met Umrigar about a year ago and she blew me away; what a wonderful woman. I’m excited to read this book! If you’re interested in joining the Read-Along, check out my post explaining what it’s all about and drop me an email.

My goal is to finish ‘Marble Sky’ this week and get started on one of my ‘Reading Next’ books. How is your WWW? Leave a comment and let me know and check out the original post on MizB’s blog!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!