“I learned long ago, that loss is not only probable, but inevitable. I know what it means to lose everything, to let go of one life and find another. And now I feel, with a strange, deep certainty, that it must be my lot in life to be taught that lesson over and over again.” Christina Baker Kline, ORPHAN TRAIN
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 luck or chance. 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 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.
I was reluctant to read ORPHAN TRAIN because I have difficulty reading novels that depict cruelty to children in any way, as I assumed this would. Numerous recommendations on social media, however, and the fact that ORPHAN TRAIN is a #1 New York Times Bestseller inspired me to dig in, and I’m so glad I did.
The premise is based on the true history of orphans packed on trains and shipped across the country, getting off at each stop until they were adopted. Sometimes the children ended up in decent circumstances, but often they did not. Vivian is one such child, but her open and sturdy character, and the way she handles setbacks and tragedies makes her radiant with courage and tenacity. The reader can make it through because Vivian can make it through, and Kline’s swift pacing make even the most difficult situations bearable.
ORPHAN TRAIN may be a quick read, but the characters will linger long after the pages are closed. It is the kind of novel that sends the reader online searching for the history that inspired it, and it makes me want to read more from Christina Baker Kline. If you enjoy fast-paced historical fiction and strong female characters, I recommend ORPHAN TRAIN.