Title: Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Genre: Historical Fiction
Beginning in 1852 and continuing through the early 1900’s the first concept of foster care began with Orphan Trains. These trains carried over 120,000 abandoned and orphaned children from the streets of New York to rural parts of the mid-west. The concept was to place these children in homes where families needed extra help around the house and/or on farms and in return these children would be given a safe place to live, an education, and if old enough compensation for their work. Many of the children placed through this program were placed successfully and ended up living a better life than if left to fend for themselves, unfortunately others were not so lucky. People took advantage of the system and looked at these children as free labor and treated them horribly, and without a proper system in place to ensure these children were not mistreated, they were left to suffer and accept their hopeless fate or try to escape.
Christina Baker Kline has spun a story out of this true historical event and introduces the reader to characters that very well might have been. Set in modern times we meet Vivian Daly a wealthy 91 year old woman who appears to have lived an unassuming life. Molly Ayer is 17 years old, a foster child who has suffered great loss and unfair treatment throughout her short life. Molly enters Vivian’s life after she is sentenced to 50 hours of community service for stealing a book. Her ‘punishment’ is to help Vivian clean out her attic which is overflowing with boxes filled with pieces of Vivian’s past. As Molly begins sorting through the clutter she unfolds a story that reveals Vivian’s life was not always so uneventful; it was in fact filled with sorrow, tragedy, misfortune, and eventually an opportunity to live a more peaceful though unexceptional life. Vivian’s story is told parallel to Molly’s current life of misfortune and the two discover they have more in common than one would ever imagine. Both characters struggled to find and keep a family and real, unconditional love, both characters were let down by a system meant to protect children, and in the end Vivian and Molly may offer each other the one thing each needed most; hope.
Who Would I Recommend This Book To?
At the core of this novel is a character whose heart is so severely broken at such a young age that she never quite heals. Vivian is so full of sorrow that she is unable to truly accept love from a family other than her own until she is reunited with a man from her past; the only person who knows who she once was. Even then tragedy endures and she makes decisions throughout her life that ultimately lead her to never opening up her heart again. She settles into a peaceful, unassuming life where she runs a successful business with her husband. But her story only took place up until her early 20’s, after that it was just an every day, mundane life, nothing worth mentioning. This novel is for anyone who believes life is filled with ups and downs, tragedy and triumph and that life is not meant to stand still and be easy. It is the mistakes we make and the events that make us suffer that shape who we are and determine the choices we make. I do not agree with some of the decisions Vivian made but I understand why she did. At 91 she begins to realize had she not closed off her heart, her story may not have had to end so early.
SaratogaMama Rating (out of 5)