The best-selling author, Christina Baker Kline, most well known for her novel Orphan Train, has outdone herself once again. A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline, is unlike anything else. Poignant, not always kind, but always deep, this novel puts you in the head of Christina, a woman who spent her entire life in a small fishing community, living in a rural area. Inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s painting entitled “Christina’s World”, Christina Baker Kline tells the story of a woman who had a small life, but who is full of incomparable determination and grit.
Cursed with an unknown medical condition from a young age, Christina struggled to undertake tasks that others took for granted. Not one to simply accept a life of infirmity, Christina found ways to contribute just as much as everyone else in her large family. Giving herself to everyone else dutifully her entire life, she was always behind the scenes. Until she wasn’t.
A painter named Andrew Wyeth comes into town and introduces himself to Christina and her brother at their seaside home. He wants to paint the house, the landscape, the garden…Everything. Christina sees something in that painter, and she welcoms him to paint and roam as he pleases. Thus forms a friendship and a connection that would forever change their lives.
Cora Carlisle, by all appearances, is a married, church-going mother of two grown boys during the Prohibition. She believes in temperance, she believes in moderation, and she believes that a woman’s skirt should extend below the knees at all times. But Cora has her own secrets, and when she gets the chance to travel to New York with an aspiring dancer, the very beautiful fifteen year old Louise Brooks, the two of them will both walk away from the experience with very changed lives.
Louise is impulsive, shamelessly flirtatious and very self-centered and bold. Cora is virtuous and reserved. The two women make quite the pair, especially when they leave Kansas and step into the bustling streets of New York city. Louise is desperate to find a way to stay out of Wichita, Kansas forever, and Cora wants to find out where she came from before she arrived in Kansas on an orphan train as a school-aged child. Temptation finds them both, much to Cora’s surprise, and she must make some very serious decisions about her virtues, her values, and her entire future when the trip ends.
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty, sneaks up on you, at first you expect a story about two mismatched women staying together in the big city, and you aren’t sure how it could possibly be interesting…Then the depth of the characters, the traumas of their lives, the truths are revealed slowly and by the end of the novel, you can’t stop reading to find out how they will fare before the story ends. Definitely women’s fiction at it’s finest.
Vivian Daly was 8 years old when she woke to a house fire and was put into the custody of an organization that distributed orphans to foster families out in the country. She rode a train full of other children like herself, some gathered up from the streets and gutters. She is placed into a family, but quickly finds out that she is not intended to be a child, but to work for them without pay except room and board…When the depression hits, things unravel quickly, and she finds herself bouncing from home to home, trying to find her place in the world and survive as best she can, only her able body and her wits on her side.
Molly Ayer is a 17-year-old girl who has been in “the system” for many years. She has bounced from foster situation to foster situation, and she has learned that she has no one to count on but herself. She dyes her hair, gets piercings, wears gothic makeup…Whatever it takes to get people to just leave her alone. When she is sentenced to 50 hours of community service and placed in the home of an elderly woman named Vivian, she knows the whole thing is going to be a big snooze fest…But she finds that she and this old woman are not so different from one another. And an unlikely bond forms between these two strong women.
Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline, is a novel about the parallels and patterns in life that travel from generation to generation, the darkest sides of humanity, the people who stand up for others and the people who only care about themselves, and the pain of real life and hardship. This novel is not warm and fuzzy, although the end is very uplifting. More sensitive readers will want Kleenex nearby, as the flaws in the foster system of both generations are unearthed and exposed mercilessly. This novel is beautiful and intense, and I couldn’t put it down. Great story. Period.