HarperCollins Publishers|March 25, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-06-195072-8
Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?
As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered by a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.
Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.
Seventeen-year-old Molly lives with her foster parents, Dina and Ralph in Spruce Harbor, Maine. Dina wasn’t all that excited about having Molly as a foster child as their last one tried to set the school on fire, but husband Ralph wanted her. Having been through the Big Brother’s program as a child himself, he felt he had something to offer Molly. But Molly isn’t surprised Dina didn’t want her because not much ever went right in her life. At school she was an outcast because she dresses goth, that is, until she meets Jack during a school work group. Jack liked her and thought she was “awesome” which made Molly smile.
Jack’s mother works for an elderly woman, Vivian Daly who is ninety-one-years-old. She wants someone to help her clean out her attic and Jack’s mother doesn’t want to do it so she offers the opportunity to Molly after Jack convinces her that Molly is trustworthy. Molly takes on the chore as she can complete her fifty hours of community service instead of going to juvenile hall for stealing something and it gives her an excuse to stay with Dina and Ralph.
Vivian Daly was only seven-years-old when she came to America from Ireland in 1929 with her family. However, she ended up in the care of the Children’s Aid Society just three years later after losing her family. Shortly after her arrival there, she found herself seated on a train called the “orphan train” which was bound for the countryside and out of the big city of New York. There were hundreds of children on the train with her, all bound for farmland and new families, that is, if any picked them out of the line-up.
I felt so very sorry for Vivian when she was living in the Grote household. The deplorable conditions under which she was forced to live were heartbreaking. I cried when I read the passage about something horrible that happened to her in that house. I wanted so badly to reach into the pages of the story, put my arms around her, and rip her out of that situation. Then, being forced to walk so, so far in the dead of winter was totally unacceptable. What cruel and heartless people they were.
As Molly and Vivian continue to clean the attic, each box opened brings back another memory and another amazing story from Vivian. It soon becomes apparent that Molly and Vivian’s lives didn’t differ that much from each other despite the seventy-four-year age difference between them. I think they found a kindred spirit in each other. Molly having been in and out of foster homes herself has now found a new friend in Vivian and one who understands what she has been through.
The Orphan Train was a phenomenal story that affected me deeply. My heart went out to all the children on the orphan train. I will most definitely be recommending this wonderful masterpiece to all who’ll listen. Orphan Train gets a huge thumbs up from me! Thank you Ms. Kline for a most interesting and intriguing story.