Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Novel.  Historical Fiction.  I read this one because it is on the fiction book club list for CLPL (January 2015) and I was once again catching up with the works for the meetings I cannot attend due to my teaching schedule.  This one is a double-story, following the lives of a contemporary young girl named Molly Ayer who has been in and out of the child welfare system, and Vivian Daly who was once one of the children put on one of the orphan trains that sent children out to the Midwest to be "adopted."

I really enjoyed this book and learned quite a bit about these orphan trains, which I had previously no knowledge regarding them.  The general idea was to take abandoned or orphaned children from large cities like New York, and ship them out on these trains to the Midwest, where they could be adopted by farming families who could use the extra help.  They thought it would solve the problem of getting large numbers of immigrant children off the streets, and at the same time provide free labor to the farming families to grow food that was desperately needed in the U.S. at that time.

Vivian's story is sad and tragic, with her becoming a free labor seamstress with little food, for a couple who literally lock the refrigerator and make her sleep on the floor.  Somehow she endures and makes a life for herself, eventually as an adult in Maine, where she helps Molly serve her court time by doing little bits and pieces of things around her house, such as cleaning out the attic.  The two connect on a sincere human level, and the two stories unfold over time as you read through the novel.

I highly recommend this work, it is one of the more touching and eye-opening pieces that I have read in a long time.  You will learn about the strength of these children, the enduring human spirit, and how these two people connect to each other in a world that is often unjust.

And so it goes...

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