“Orphan Train” Book Review

Molly never expected to find any commonalities between her foster-child self and the ninety-one year old Vivian living in a mansion in Maine, but when Molly must complete community service or go to juvenile prison, she ends up helping Vivian clean out her attic. Except, what she discovers up there ties the two women together in a way neither of them could have imagined.5026748369_8700f4a169_b

Orphan Train covers a piece of history that very few people know about – a piece of history that is beyond unnerving, where orphans from overcrowded Eastern United States cities were packed onto trains and delivered to the rural Midwest. Families selected these orphans to take home with them. Some were lucky; they were adopted into loving homes. Most were not.

If you weren’t an infant, chances were you ended up as a farm hand, a servant- a child laborer. No adoption. No love. Only a means to an end.

This novel transitions between the modern day (2011) and the later 1920s to 1930s/early 40s. Readers learn about Molly’s life as a foster child, while also reading about Vivian’s childhood as an orphan train rider. As the story progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer how similar Molly and Vivian are, not only with their stories, but also with their personalities.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, I thought Vivian’s storyline was much stronger than Molly’s. After reading the acknowledgements, I understand why. The author, Christine Baker Kline, did a lot of research into the orphan trains, even interviewing surviving members. However, it seems that she didn’t do the same level of research for the foster system, and that Molly was more of a vehicle for Vivian’s storyline than anything else.

Despite this issue, I found myself drawn into the story, and after I finished the novel, I researched orphan trains. I’m astonished that orphan trains aren’t mentioned as part of U.S. History, but as occurs most often with history, only bits and pieces of the truth are stitched together to give the appearance of a whole picture.

Orphan Train is worth reading, even if to only familiarize oneself with one of the darker aspects of American History.

(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Keith.)

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