15818107ORPHAN TRAIN, Christina Baker Kline

Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN
0061950726 (ISBN13: 9780061950728)
edition language
English

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.

What I Think:

FRESH DYNAMIC: That depends. Many readers say ORPHAN TRAIN reads like young adult fiction because Kline did such a superb job with Molly’s character. I think there’s more to that claim. Consider this: 1) By leafing through a wealthy old lady’s attic and 2) forming a bond with said mysterious old lady, (who is more interested in the main character’s well-being than her own mother) 3) a young girl with a difficult past grows/heals 4) and fills a maternal void. 5) Meanwhile, she contributes to the old lady’s quality of life. Old lady feels less isolated and more encouraged to embrace her future. WOW –  -Discovering secrets in an attic was every girl’s dream (at least, before the digital age…) : BEHIND THE ATTIC WALL, any NANCY DREW. I could go on and on. Discovering a crone had a past life and making her happy? POLLYANNA, and several episodes of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. This may feel like YA because that was what you read when you were ten. If not, it is a fresh dynamic.

EMOTIONALLY REWARDING:  Absolutely, but Kline sets up expectations well in advance. Mrs. Byrne is cold-hearted. Mr. Grote is gross. When “Dorothy” sees The Wizard of Oz, readers know her life is about to go TECHNICOLOR. Maybe these overt cues contribute to the YA idea as well.

Once Molly and Vivian share truths about tragedy in their early lives, Vivian reflects: “And so your personality is shaped. You know too much and this knowledge makes you wary…The expression of emotion does not come naturally, so you learn to fake it. To pretend. To display an empathy you don’t actually feel. And so it is that you learn how to pass, if you’re lucky, to look like everyone else, even though you’re broken inside.”  p.170. These are the passages where Kline’s writing shines – making extreme circumstances emotionally transferable.

DUAL HEROINES … OR NOT?: Another reason this story could be seen as a YA read is the struggle to determine “heroineship”.

Throughout Niamh/Dorothy/Vivian’s experience she remains a good-hearted survivor who prospers, but she doesn’t do anything extraordinary. Nothing heroic or self-sacrificing. She makes her money, sits in her mansion and becomes a hoarder. She’s not particularly happy or contributor to the community. In short, not heroine material. When Molly’s school project requires an interview, Vivian doesn’t seem to fret over the decision to discuss her life after decades of silence. *SPOILER ALERT (SORT OF)*  Vivian supplies answers and out of her past tumbles an out-of-character plot twist that made me groan.

This leaves Molly, the character who changes most IN REAL TIME. The novel opens with her in full goth attire, but frustrated by the effort it takes. With each visit, her social worker comments on Molly losing some of her “armor”. The way Molly succeeds as a heroine is by finding inner strength to move beyond her sarcastic shell and help others.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I liked this story a great deal. I enjoyed learning about the historical significance of the orphan trains. Kline does a fantastic job weaving the two voices in the simplest, clearest way possible.  There will be plenty for book clubs to discuss.

Man in the Blue Moon

Author: Michael Morris
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414368429
ISBN-13: 978-1414368429

 Book Description:
“He’s a gambler at best. A con artist at worst,” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons. While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins. But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.

What I think:

If you like Southern Fiction, there is a great deal to like about MAN IN THE BLUE MOON. Set in a Apalachicola, a coastal town of cypress trees and Spanish moss, the characters face financial hard times and a war that has everyone on edge. Morris’ blends suspicious town gossips married to quiet men who say the right thing at just the right time, self-righteous know-it-all’s nosing around, loyal friends who don’t speak for years and evangelical pastors straining for a buck. He parades them before you with wonderful timing, a familiar step through turn-of-the-century north Florida. Morris brings up many captivating questions about faith, miracles and mysticism – reserving judgment or explanation. That’s an interesting turn for Tyndale, which typically publishes Christian fiction. Can I get an AMEN?

The main character is single mom, Ella Wallace. Due to her no -account husband, Ella is stuck with debts she can’t pay. She tries to run a commissary and raise three very different sons in the middle of a war, holding fiercely to the one thing her Daddy told her to never let go of – her land. Ella’s character is completely relate-able to today’s times. Though I cocked my eyebrow at the Snidely Wiplash description of her husband, wishing he and the “bad guys” had been given as much depth as other characters, the premise and story were so intriguing, I had no trouble continuing.

The GUY (there’s always a GUY): He arrives in a completely unexpected fashion, setting the gossips a-dither. He’s the opposite of the louse-like husband, offers to help right and left, and doesn’t even realize he’s filling the immense void Louse Husband left behind. Dream guy, right? He’s very mysterious, creating more trouble and town speculation than Ella (and her teenage son) can handle. She’s caught between the need for his help and gossip about him helping her and feelings, nothing more than feelings.

Meanwhile, there’s a power-grab for Ella’s land between a scurvy banker and an evangelist who turns local Indian beliefs about healing waters and Scripture on it’s ear. Ella’s is torn between her promise to her father and her debt. How will she survive? Money goes this way and that and Ella struggles to maintain her dignity, her family and her land. The murder described above is a huge slam-bang affair, written powerfully well. I was surprised how Morris, who obviously loves Apalachicola and knows it in and out, quickly turns to a well-drawn action scene that had me guessing.

Also amazing is that Morris pulls pieces of this story from his own family history. A man actually did arrive to his family farm in the same manner as Ella’s visitor to work for awhile before Morris was born. Interesting how family history contributes to authors stories, isn’t it?

If you like MAN IN THE BLUE MOON you may enjoy-

For the Southern aspect, Florida author – JANIS OWENS My Brother Michael, and American Ghost

A Christian, Southern author – CHARLES MARTIN The Dead Don’t Dance

For a Historical & Florida author – MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS South Moon Under

MAN IN THE BLUE MOON is the SheReads.org online book club November read.. You can visit Shereads.org to read more reviews.