Up Late with Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

imgresMy trusty librarian recommended this book to me a few months ago and I finally found some time to pull it off my shelf and read it. I could not put it down and zoomed through it like a desert-dweller drinking water after a hot day. The narrative bounces between Molly Ayer, a 17 year old girl in the foster system and Vivian Daly, her 91 year old neighbor, who Molly has begun to do community service for after stealing a book.

We learn about Vivian’s early life as an orphan–not so different from the experiences Molly has more than half a century later. Although Vivian was an Irish immigrant and Molly is a Penobscot Indian in Maine, they are connected by having been orphaned and passed around from house to house. The thread throughout the book is the idea of portages–Molly learns about the Wabanakis who “knew the value of traveling light and understood that it required leaving some things behind. Nothing encumbered movement more than far, which as often the most difficult burden to surrender.” Vivian has her celtic cross gifted to her by her Gram back in Ireland, and Molly has her three charms, gifted to her by her father shortly before his accident. These two women form a bond and offer what the other needs exactly as they need it.

This book was so enjoyable to read, and the compelling factor is the research behind it–I had no idea about the orphan trains that took thousands of children to the midwest. Kline has done her homework, and she weaves the truth about the children’s plight throughout the narrative. The book has a short essay on the history of the orphan trains, and it is fascinating. This book is one of those rare 5-star books–unassuming, but it sticks with you long after you’ve read it.orphan_train

  • “I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is–a place in the memory of others where our best selves live on.”
  • “I like the assumption that everyone is trying his best, and we should all just be kind to each other.”
  • “So is it just human nature to believe that things happen for a reason — to find some shred of meaning even in the worst experiences?”
  • “Time constricts and flattens, you know. It’s not evenly weighted. Certain moments linger in the mind and others disappear.”
  • “I believe in ghosts….They’re the ones who haunt us. The ones who have left us behind… the people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our ordinary moments. They’re with us in the grocery store, as we turn the corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.”
  • “The things that matter stay with you, seep into your skin.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Up Late with Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

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