Christina Baker Kline has a hit on her hands with her 2013 book titled Orphan Train. It may no longer be on the bestseller list, but book clubs will eat it up for years to come.
According to Kline’s blog, “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?”
Orphan Train runs two different time lines. The book opens in modern day Spruce Harbor, Maine and Molly Ayers is in trouble. She was caught stealing a book from the library and has been assigned community service. This does not bode well with her foster parents; especially, Dina who is looking to get her moved on for various reasons.
Molly knows that she is skirting the comfort zone of her agreement with Ralph and Dina. Dina’s quick to tell her that other foster parents will not take in a known shoplifter for the trust issues alone, but Molly is 17 now and soon the foster system will be all but a bad memory.
What’s the big deal anyway? It was Jane Eyre, the ugly copy. Who would even miss it? The paperback was too new and the hardback too clean, so Molly slipped the dog-eared, yellow-highlighted, crispy brown papered copy into her coat. The librarian should thank her for doing the weeding.
Because of this action, Molly will spend the next 50 hours cleaning the attic of an elderly woman, Vivian Daly, in the nice part of town. “But she’s not sure about this idea. Stuck alone in a musty attic day after day, going through some lady’s trash?”
As you can guess, Vivian Daly is our little orphan train rider, Niamh Power, who leaves New York City and ends up in Minneapolis in 1929. Her shock of red hair and freckles marks her as Irish and undesirable to most that look her over. The Claddagh necklace that still resides on her neck today also served to ward off even the kindest of strangers.Both Molly and Niamh then Dorothy and finally Vivian are characters that will pull at your heart strings. With 60 years of difference in their ages, their common ground is measured in acres not feet.
Orphan Train is a remarkable novel bringing this little known history back to Americans.