Orphan Train… a little known piece of history

I like historical fiction, a lot… its one of my favorite genres.  I say one of because I cannot have just one.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a story based on a piece of history that I admit, I knew nothing about before this book.  For 75 years, orphans of different backgrounds were brought from Eastern cities to the Midwest to find foster homes to take care of these children.  This book is a fictionalized story based on these children’s experience.

This is the description from Goodreads:

orphan2The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected
friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.
Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

This is a book that has been on my TBR pile since I first heard of it, but was really excited when it came up as one of my book club’s monthly reads.  Yes, I am technically in more than one book club.  Why?  Because. Books! This story follows the relationship between Molly, who is in the present-day foster care system, and Vivian, who was in foster homes after being brought to the Midwest on an Orphan Train.  The book bounces between present-day Molly and Vivian to child-Vivian (whose name changes a few times as she bounces from home to home).  I admit there are several times in this story where my heart broke.  It is always hard to hear of children being treated so poorly, especially when I know situations like that not only did exist in that time, but still exist in present-day.  That is what really spoke to me as I read this book… not a whole lot has changed.  And it definitely gave me a new appreciation, perspective and respect for some of the children that I know and love.

I loved watching as Vivian found a family that wanted to adopt her, though she never really felt like she was ‘home’… and watching her fall in love… and watching her relationship with Molly grow and change the both of them.  Believe me, I haven’t really spoiled anything in saying that.  There’s actually a lot more I would like to say about this book, but in doing so I would definitely give some things away.  I’ll just say Vivian surprises me with some decisions that she makes.

After reading this book, I admit I looked it up online, wanting to know more about the Orphan Train Movement.  Kline does include some information in her book, which I did appreciate.  Have you read the book?  What did you think?


4 out of 5 stars.