Orphan Train… a little known piece of history

I like historical fiction, a lot… its one of my favorite genres.  I say one of because I cannot have just one.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a story based on a piece of history that I admit, I knew nothing about before this book.  For 75 years, orphans of different backgrounds were brought from Eastern cities to the Midwest to find foster homes to take care of these children.  This book is a fictionalized story based on these children’s experience.

This is the description from Goodreads:

orphan2The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected
friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.
Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

This is a book that has been on my TBR pile since I first heard of it, but was really excited when it came up as one of my book club’s monthly reads.  Yes, I am technically in more than one book club.  Why?  Because. Books! This story follows the relationship between Molly, who is in the present-day foster care system, and Vivian, who was in foster homes after being brought to the Midwest on an Orphan Train.  The book bounces between present-day Molly and Vivian to child-Vivian (whose name changes a few times as she bounces from home to home).  I admit there are several times in this story where my heart broke.  It is always hard to hear of children being treated so poorly, especially when I know situations like that not only did exist in that time, but still exist in present-day.  That is what really spoke to me as I read this book… not a whole lot has changed.  And it definitely gave me a new appreciation, perspective and respect for some of the children that I know and love.

I loved watching as Vivian found a family that wanted to adopt her, though she never really felt like she was ‘home’… and watching her fall in love… and watching her relationship with Molly grow and change the both of them.  Believe me, I haven’t really spoiled anything in saying that.  There’s actually a lot more I would like to say about this book, but in doing so I would definitely give some things away.  I’ll just say Vivian surprises me with some decisions that she makes.

After reading this book, I admit I looked it up online, wanting to know more about the Orphan Train Movement.  Kline does include some information in her book, which I did appreciate.  Have you read the book?  What did you think?


4 out of 5 stars.


Malala Yousafzai: her father, her book and an inspiring story

So, last night I watched this TED talk of Malala Yousafzai’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai.  He talks about what it is like to be her father and how he raised her.  He says, “Do not ask what I did. Ask what I did not do.  I did not clip her wings, and that is all.”  I really enjoyed this video and thought it came up at an appropriate time with Father’s Day coming up this weekend.


If you have not heard of Malala, she is truly an inspiring young woman.  Raised in Pakistan, where women as fortunate to have schools and education like we do in the US, Malala fought for her right to go to school.  In 2012, at fifteen years old, she was shot in the head by the Taliban because of her advocating for women’s rights in Pakistan.  She survived and last year became the youngest person to win a Nobel Peace Prize.  Her memoir, I am Malala, is her story of learning how to stand up and become an advocate.  She has overcome and stood up to great challenges that many others would have backed down from.  The book provides a lot of history and background to her country and culture, which I personally find fascinating and if you do, too – please check out her book.

“I do not want to be remembered as the girl who was shot.  I want to be remembered as the girl who stood up.” – Malala Yousafzai

The Last Book in the Universe…or Farenheit 451 from a younger perspective.

So, I swear I did not do this on purpose, but I read The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick right after I read Farenheit 451.  It’s like Farenheit 451‘s mini-me!

The_Last_Book_in_the_Universe_-_Book_CoverAccording to Goodreads:

This fast-paced action novel is set in a future where the world has been almost destroyed. Like the award-winning novel Freak the Mighty, this is Philbrick at his very best.
It’s the story of an epileptic teenager nicknamed Spaz, who begins the heroic fight to bring human intelligence back to the planet. In a world where most people are plugged into brain-drain entertainment systems, Spaz is the rare human being who can see life as it really is. When he meets an old man called Ryter, he begins to learn about Earth and its past. With Ryter as his companion, Spaz sets off an unlikely quest to save his dying sister — and in the process, perhaps the world.

Ok, so it isn’t clear in the description but if you read in between the lines of being plugged into the ‘brain-drain entertainment systems’ (Or 3 screen families in Farenheit, or just TV to you and me) you understand that no one reads and books don’t really exist in their world.  Written from the perspective of Spaz, he meets a older, wiser gentleman called Ryter who is *ahem* writing ‘the last book.’  Ok, so the names aren’t the greatest.  However, it is written from a younger perspective and also intended for a younger audience who might find the puns clever.  However, let me sidetrack for a moment here and advocate for YA books- some of my favorite books are YA.  I will admit that I was a little skeptical when I first got this book, though  I was unsure if it was going to be as good as my friends made it out be- yes *shocked face* I judged a book by the cover.  However, this, like many, many other books have proven that the cover is not everything.  There are some really insightful, deep and thoughtful topics that can be addressed to quench an intellectual thirst but done from a different perspective, sometimes.  It is refreshing, cleaner, and I do appreciate that as a reader you can address these things without using graphic, vulgar or profane words.  Just my two cents.  Hop on over to Bookbound and read Who should read YA? for a more clever advocate on the topic.

Moving along… so Spaz goes on a quest to save his dying sister and has to face numerous challenges and threats along the way.  However, he makes some friends and learns some lessons, too.  He learns how being different has allowed him to be the best person for the job and he learns to accept himself and his differences.  He opens up and learns how to stand up for himself, those he cares about, and for what is right.  He is young, and he does make mistakes and has flaws but as the reader, you come to love Spaz, too for his heart and his spirit.  You’ll be rooting for him, too.  The moral of the story is very much like Farenheit 451 in honoring how stories were originally told- through storytellers and storytelling.  As long as there is someone to tell the story, ‘books’ will never really die.

Has anyone else read this one?  Or do you have any other good Adult/YA pairings?

3.5 out of 5 stars

All the Light We Cannot See…is it worth the hype?

One of the books that I was able to finish on one of my flights from the weekend is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  Which, by the way I am so glad that I was able to finish.  It feels like I’ve been carrying that book around for a month!  I haven’t really… it just felt like it, you know?  So, we were supposed to discuss this book for our book club last month (but we didn’t because everyone happened to be on Chapter 2 at the time) and I was determined to finish it before our next meeting!  I succeeded- hooray!  I was so excited to see how this story played out and had been looking forward to reading it for months.  I love historical fiction and especially World War II stories, plus this author added a really interesting twist.  Plus, it won the Pulitzer Prize this year.

all the light we cannot see

Here’s what Goodreads has to say about the book:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

So, I looked up the book on YouTube and found a video with the author describing his inspiration for the story and it was really interesting the way he described how we (human beings) take advantage of the magic of technology all around us.  We can pick up a cell phone and talk to someone thousands of miles away and hear them as if they were standing right next to us.  Part of this concept is interwoven into the story with the radios and whatnot.  I, personally love that kind of stuff — it fascinates me.  For instance in the story, Werner and his sister are listening to the radio and discover a station of scientific lessons talking about how the brain sits in total darkness but is able to translate light and colors.  Nerdy, yeah maybe a little but who cares?

So Werner is a brilliant German kid who is swept away in the war because of his ability to fix radios and do intricate mathematical formulations.  His story alternates with Marie-Laure, in France, who is blind and learns how to navigate her way around Paris and Saint-Malo from her father’s miniature model of the town.  It is really very interesting, too to see the world from Marie-Laure’s perspective.  Her descriptions are lovely and I love the way that she ‘sees’ colors! It’s worth reading just for those descriptions – really well written!

So, that being said… I loved the beginning.  And I loved the ending.  However, to be honest, I found it a bit slow in the middle.  Perhaps part of the reason may be because for some reason I expected Marie-Laure and Werner to meet sooner in the story and for their lives to overlap and intertwine a little bit more.  Spoiler:  Werner and Marie-Laure don’t meet until closer to the end of the book; like around page 400 or so.  So perhaps that could be why I found the middle a little slow; I was waiting for the story to take a different turn.  Which, don’t get me wrong – I like to be surprised by a book, I like when a book keeps me guessing.  This wasn’t really one of those, though – there was just a lot more that had to happen before they even met in the first place.  I can’t really say a whole lot more without giving some things away.

So, all in all it was a really good story and I’m glad that I read it.  Like I said, it had a great start and a great ending but I personally would have trimmed the middle – just a bit.  Has anyone else read this one?  What did you think?

3.5 out of 5 stars.