Lost and found

Orphan Train
Christina Baker Kline

Vivan Daly and Molly Ayer were both tossed and tumbled as young women. Orphans (at least for all practical purposes in Molly’ case) they endured long, lonely years before they came to rest. Abused in a series of foster homes where conditions ranged from abuse to neglect, they bore the scars: Vivian, aloof and haughty; Molly, rebellious and angry. Although separated in age by over seventy years, they find in each other the sister-daughter-mother they never had. And in discovering each other, they find themselves.

Niamh’s arrived in New York as many Irish did–sick and poor. When a fire raced through their tenement, Niamh found herself in the care (and I use that word loosely) of the Children’s Aid Society, bound for the West on an orphan train. Re-named Dorothy because her name was so difficult for Americans to decipher, she became indentured labor for two families–thrown out of one in a blizzard, boarding with a sympathetic teacher for a time, and finally finding security with the Nielsens, who owned a small grocery-dry goods store. From there, life did get better, but Niamh-cum-Dorothy-cum-Vivian always carries with her the pain of her lost family.

Molly was as combative as Vivian was constrained. Shuffled from foster family to foster family, she carves out her identity with piercings, tattoos, and outrageously dyed hair. In her latest situation, she finds herself excelling in school; her boyfriend anchored her and life was tolerable for a time. That is until she tries to smuggle  a copy of Jane Eyre out of the public library. And that is how Molly came to serve fifty community service hours helping Vivian sort through, clean, and organize her memories attic.

Orphan Train was a quick and satisfying read. If the plot was a bit predictable at times, author Christina Baker Kline did manage something of a twist at the end and I don’t think many readers would be disappointed. I found myself wanting to know more about this historic relocation of over 250,000 children–again, always a sign of a good book, in my view. Check out this short clip if you, too, want to know more (link).

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