From My Bookshelf ~ Featuring Emma Hooper and Christina Baker Kline

By Lynn Willoughby
Ette and Otta and Russell and James ~ Emma Hooper
This is a difficult book to review and/or categorize.  On the surface it seems very simple – the language and the story.  However it is a very complex mix of here and there, past and present, a love triangle, unplanned pregnancies, World War II, reminders of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, geography, people, trying to remember and trying to forget.  I really liked this little book.
“I’m gone.  I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there.  I will try to remember to come back.”  This is the note 82 year old Etta leaves for her husband Otto.   She takes some chocolate because she like chocolate, she takes a rifle and leaves Saskatchewan, walking east toward the ocean.
Otto waits at home, missing her, remembering his life, trying to bake using the recipes Emma has selected for him.  Their neighbour, Russell has loved Etta all his life.  He can’t stay still, so begins his own quest, his first act of defiance in his entire life.
It is 3200 km from Etta and Otto’s farm to the east coast.  Etta has a note in her pocket naming her parents, sister, husband and herself, and her home address.  But as the days and weeks pass memories and reality begin to blur.  She recognizes her dementia, she knows she may or may not know how to get home, but her companion, James, a talking coyote, keeps her grounded.  He may be real, he may be her spirit guide, but he keeps her safe, warm and away from people.  He adds a lot to the fable-like quality of this novel.
We need to dust off our imagination to enjoy this debut book.  There is a lot happening, there is a lot to learn.
The emotional connection I had with the story will linger and I may actually reread this one.
Orphan Train ~ Christina Baker Kline
This story is grim, the writing is bad and the editing non-existant.  For example,  “Black makeup is smeared under her eyes like a football player.”  I don’t know about you, but I find it very difficult to smear football players anywhere – let alone under my eyes!!!
I know this isn’t what was meant, but it IS an example of another “waste of time” novel on the bestseller list.
There is the foster mother who is racist, the foster father who is sexually abusive, the foster parents in it for the money, the foster girl who is Goth, the 91 year old lady who hoards her life in her attic.  It is just full of cliches and stereotypes.
On the other hand, it did send me to Google to find out about orphan trains.  “Between 1854-1929 more than 200,000 children were sent west for adoption.”  More often than not they were treated as indentured servants or slave labour.
This book had the potential to be really interesting.  It is just so unfortunate that the writing was amateurish and was so very predictable.  The sentimentality was cloying and trite.  All in all, for me Orphan Train is a train wreck of a book.  Save your money.
  • Bird in Hand
  • The Way Life Should Be
Who Knew?
The orphan train movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded eastern cities of the US to foster homes located in largely rural areas of the midwest.