Rescued Post: Orphan Train book review
My bookclub recently read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Overall, as a story I gave it 4 stars. I thought the writing was good and I was engaged from start to finish. As a piece of historical fiction or fictional memoir woven with a contemporary story, I thought it worked, it fit nicely and the interplay between Vivian and Molly worked.
I read several reviews on goodreads which were highly critical of the novel. They took issue with it being “yet another book about bad foster families” or “it couldn’t possibly be that the kids have problems.”
I will say this, I am sure there are plenty of wholesome, loving, doing it for the right reasons foster families. Certainly not all foster families are ill-suited to raising a difficult child and absolutely not all foster families sexually/physically assault the children in their care. This is true for today and 100 years ago. The fact remains the most vulnerable, children really have no way of knowing. They have been traumatized once and face a very uncertain future. For every child who hits the foster parent lottery, several aren’t so lucky.
Did the book have the tone of a Lifetime movie or Hallmark Channel classic? Yes. Is that my normal sort of preferred genre, no.
Also dear readers, it is not the writer of fiction’s job to comply with your world view, to parrot propaganda or to even entertain you as wish to be entertained. It is the writer’s job to engage you, to make you think. I think good writers are provocateurs. That is my goal gang. My goal is to rattle that brain of yours and maybe I make you smile or maybe I piss you off, maybe I make you laugh out loud and maybe I make you cringe. Ideally, I inspire you to seek more information. Ideally something I write sticks with you, leaves you changed.
Kline speaks eloquently about her research, which was extensive. She did not just make this story up, she dealt with source materials, other first hand accounts, and family histories. Many of the orphans on the train were there against their will, ripped away from their families, certain people deemed unfit and others were rounded up and told their efforts to care for themselves were ungodly and sent to a very horrible unknown.
All of this, coupled with the events unfolding around the nation vis a vi school funding and testing and so forth has me thinking. Why do we value children so little? Have we really progressed much since 1890? Sure we now have child labor laws. That is helpful. I suppose children have some voice in custody situations. More than they used to. Children around the world are still exploited. Even in the US.
Girls are still not always believed when they report sexual assault. Neither are boys. We don’t want to admit how often children are abused, because I think we then would have to admit– how little as a society we value children.
Children are provided an education based on the will and desires of adults– often without much input from the child who is actually doing the learning. Education is a political football and is completely driven by the ones who can yell the loudest. I think children should have the right to call bullshit– when clearly there is hypocrisy afoot. The organization in the book– who were said to be working on behalf of the children, in my opinion was actually working in their own self-interest and were very cruel to the children they sent west, placing them with unvetted families, because in their mind it was better than the “depravity” they took them away from. The question is better for whom? They were also operating from a place of xenophobia and racism. They were extremely judgmental and cruel people.
I will also say this– the very people today who would likely judge the “depravity” some children grow up in are also the ones that decry the need for affordable and reliable birth control. Vivian’s family of origin had several issues going on that led to poverty and mainly too many mouths to feed was at the top of the list. The Grote’s, where she was placed, had many problems going as well, again, mainly too many mouths to feed.
We know that constant child-bearing is not good for a woman’s body and her long term physical health and we know that the cycle of birth after birth can have mental health consequences as well as making it difficult to parent effectively. I know some women manage it fine. I know I couldn’t.
The reality is, while I value the right to reproductive freedom, as a society, as members of the world community, I am not sure we have come as far as we should have by now. Parenting takes alot of sacrifice and requires a person to put the needs of someone else or several someone elses before their own. It’s hard. A social safety net really helps. The advances we have seen — are due to the social safety net.
Do we really want to pare back the net? I think we need to make it stronger.