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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Orphan Train Offers a Fascinating Look at Family, Foster Care and the Power of Friendship

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

A wealthy widow, 91-year-old Vivian Daly lives in a roomy Victorian off the coast of Maine.  Although she appears to be a woman born into money and privilege, nothing could be further from the truth.  No one knows the true story of how Vivian transformed herself from a poverty-stricken immigrant into a successful businesswoman and now a retired senior citizen living in luxury.  Her remarkable history is packed away in boxes, which sit in her attic gathering dust.  Vivian's told no one her full life story; she intends to take her secrets to the grave.
Then, Molly Ayer arrives on Vivian's doorstep.  On the brink of being kicked out of her newest foster home, the 17-year-old knows her next stop will be juvie—unless she can convince the powers that be of her sincere desire to improve herself.  Community service is the key and, thanks to Vivian Daly's housekeeper, Molly's found just the project to keep her busy.  Cleaning out the old lady's junk-filled attic isn't exactly the teenager's idea of a good time, but she's desperate.  And, okay, a little bit curious.   

As the unlikely duo works together to sort through all of Vivian's keepsakes, they develop a cautious friendship.  The project whisks Vivian back to the dark days of her youth, to the poverty, sorrow and abuse that marked her early years.  Molly's childhood hasn't been so dissimilar.  Both are tight-lipped about their sufferings—Can they learn to trust each other enough to unburden themselves of the baggage they carry?  Or will both women's remarkable survival stories remain forever untold?

Because I'm an adoptive mother (or maybe just a mother in general), I'm always drawn to stories about orphan children.  Such tales yank on my heart strings and claw their way so far under my skin that they float around in my mind for years after I read them.  Orphan Train, a new novel by Christina Baker Kline, will no doubt be the same.  The parallel stories of Vivian and Molly are both heartbreaking, although it's Vivian's that receives the most attention, thus becoming the most memorable.  Vivian's is a hard tale, full of humiliation, loss and woe.  Although fictional, it still offers a fascinating glimpse into the earliest version of foster care in America as well as the real-life experiences of the more than 100,000 children who really were herded onto "orphan trains" and farmed out to families in the Midwest between the years 1854 and 1929.  Molly's modern story isn't much better, begging the question, "Has anything really changed for America's abused and orphaned children?"  It sounds dreary, I know, but Orphan Train also touts the life-changing power of compassion, the importance of education and the true meaning of family.  It all ties up rather neatly as well—probably too neatly, but who cares?  I wanted a happy ending for Vivian and Molly, both of whom won my affection easily and completely.  And I got it.            

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of We Rode the Orphan Trains by Andrea Warren)     

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, sexual innuendo/content, and violence (including depictions of child abuse/neglect and attempted rape)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Orphan Train from the generous folks at Harper Collins via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!


  1. Ooh! I've had this one on my list for months!

  2. I've read one other book that featured a little girl adopted on an orphan train and I really enjoyed it. I'm glad that there's a happy ending here too!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  3. As an adoptive mum to be (hopefully), this one interests me too. Adding it to my to-read list.

    New follower :)

    BookishTrish @ Between the Lines


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