Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

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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.

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

Patience Murphy is a midwife in Appalachia during the Depression, in a time when the Ku Klux Klan was showing it’s ugly face, and when the local doctor refuses to help colored women in labor. She lives to help others, but she lives in fear-Patience has her own ugly secrets-a dark past that hangs over her and could ruin her life if her secret got out.

This is a novel about unlikely relationships that become lifelong friendships, the pain of loss, the healing powers of love and compassion, and the heart that comes out when people have nothing else to give. The hardship of the area and the times will bring tears to your eyes as you read this novel and imagine what it might have been like to try and make, then raise, a family during a time of intense poverty when medicine was not advanced, or simply unavailable to the lower classes. Desperate times bring forth some very productive change, and the lessons learned by this kind, stubborn midwife as she travels her path, helping the birthing women of Appalachia and learning that love has no cost and no color.

This novel is NOT for anyone who is squeamish about childbirth related topics. The births are quite graphic and the description in the entire novel is breathtaking-which means that if you can’t talk  about placenta or umbilical cords you should probably leave this one alone. If you like to read novels that step outside the box, The Midwife of Hope River , by Patricia Harman, is one of the most eloquently written pieces of women’s fiction on shelves today.