***The Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Orphan train flyer, 1910 (photo: wikimedia)

By Christina Baker Kline – This book tells an interesting story, two of them, in fact. The modern-day story is about foster child Molly, goth makeup and hair, piercings, who has trouble fitting in with the multiple families she’s rotated through. Not an orphan, her mother’s persistent drug abuse has made Molly a ward of the state of Maine. When she steals a copy of Jane Eyre from the library, she receives the surprisingly harsh punishment (reading ought to be encouraged, one would think, the classics especially!), of 50 hours of community service.

The job she finds is helping 91-year-old Vivian clean her attic, but it turns out Vivian doesn’t really want to discard anything; the tidying up is an excuse for her to revisit the boxes of memories hidden away up there, some of which she hasn’t touched literally or emotionally in decades. Vivian, it turns out, was one of the 200,000 abandoned, homeless, or orphaned children transported on the “orphan trains” from the East Coast to the Midwest during a 75-year period between 1854 and 1929. Many found loving homes, many others found conditions of neglect and near-slavery. It was a confusing, uncertain, and frightening time for them. (The orphan trains were the subject of an American Experience documentary, also, if you’d like to learn more about this topic.)

For both Molly and Vivian, growing up had its perils, though the advantages they had in sheer intelligence may have set them apart from other children in similar difficult situations. They both have secrets and have to learn to trust each other, if they are ever to be able to share them. A quick read.