Christina Baker Kline & Caroline Leavitt
Wednesday April 24, 2013
Novelists Christina Baker Kline (Orphan Train) and Caroline Leavitt (Is This Tomorrow) have written very different books with some surprising similarities. Kline writes about the relationship between a 17-year-old Penobscot Indian girl in foster care and a 91-year-old Irish immigrant with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider. Leavitt's novel is about a divorced Jewish woman in a 1950s suburban enclave who, along with her son, is targeted when a neighborhood boy vanishes. But both novels are about people living in historically significant moments in twentieth-century America who are desperate to be part of a community, yet are outsiders and outcasts. Kline and Leavitt, in conversation, talked about the challenges and rewards of writing fiction that involves extensive research, the quest to write about a period in history in a way that makes it relevant today, and the place of mystery and revelation in their novels.
It’s not commonly known in American history that from 1854 to 1929 orphaned or abandoned children in the crowded cities of the East were often placed on “orphan trains” and shipped out west. The lucky ones would go on to be adopted and welcomed into loving families, but more often than not, children would be placed in hard labor positions with uncaring families. Such was the case with the novel’s protagonist Vivian. When Molly needs to complete community service hours to be kept out of juvenile detention she agrees to help Vivian clean out her attic. As the two bond and discuss some of the items they come across, Vivian finds the courage to confront her past as she recalls her childhood in Ireland and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where she lived in a tenement, and her troubled young adulthood in the Midwest. It’s not long before the pair discovers they have more in common than meets the eye and Molly becomes determined to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that continue to haunt her.
Praise for Orphan Train
"Christina Baker Kline's latest wonder, Orphan Train, makes for compulsive reading--this is a story of resilience in the face of tremendous odds and oppressive loneliness. Meticulously researched and yet full of the breath of life, Kline's novel takes us on an historical journey where survival depends upon one's own steely backbone, and the miracle of a large and generous heart."
— Helen Schulman, NYT bestselling author of This Beautiful Life
Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels, including Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be. Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University from 2007-2011, Kline is a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship and several research fellowships (to Ireland and Minnesota), and has been a Writer-in-Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She lives with husband and three sons in Montclair, New Jersey, and spends as much time as possible in northern Minnesota and on the coast of Maine, where she grew up.
You can find out more on her website at www.christinabakerklline.com
In 1956, when divorced working-mom Ava Lark rents a house with her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, in a Boston suburb, the neighborhood is less than welcoming. Lewis yearns for his absent father, befriending the only other fatherless kids: Jimmy and Rose. One afternoon, Jimmy goes missing. The neighborhood—in the era of the Cold War, bomb scares, and paranoia—seizes the opportunity to further ostracize Ava and her son. Lewis never recovers from the disappearance of his childhood friend. By the time he reaches his twenties, he’s living a directionless life, a failure in love, estranged from his mother. Rose is now a schoolteacher in another city, watching over children as she was never able to watch over her own brother. Ava is building a new life for herself in a new decade. When the mystery of Jimmy’s disappearance is unexpectedly solved, all three must try to reclaim what they have lost.
Praise for Is This Tomorrow
"From the lockstep '50s into the do-your-own-thing '60s, Caroline Leavitt follows her cast of lonely characters as they grapple with the sorrowful mystery of a missing child. 'Are any of our children safe?' one asks, and of course the answer is no, no one is. Like Mona Simpson's Off Keck Road, Is This Tomorrow is an intimate meditation on time, loss and destiny."--Stewart O'Nan
Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of eight novels. Her essays and stories have been included in New York magazine, Psychology Today, More, Parenting, Redbook, and Salon. She’s a columnist for the Boston Globe, a book reviewer for People, and a writing instructor at UCLA online.