(Image from Barnes & Noble)
After her mother dies, 32-year-old Samantha receives a box filled with the dead woman's keepsakes. Sam is stunned to find, among them, evidence that her mother's childhood was much different than her mother ever let on. In fact, a young Violet White was placed on an orphan train in 1900. Stunned by this news, Sam longs to know her mother's real story.
In alternating chapters, the dead woman's tale is told. It's a sad one, a story of poverty and abandonment sent against a grimy New York City background. As Sam contrasts her own rocky relationship with motherhood with her mother's experience, she comes to understand some truths about herself and her family.
It's difficult to describe Mercy Train by Rae Meadows because it's a very episodic novel, without a lot of connectivity between elements. Except for the orphan children, the characters are not very sympathetic. I didn't feel connected to any of them, which made the whole story seem distant. Perhaps this was done on purpose to reinforce the book's disconnection theme? If so, it's not a storytelling device I enjoy. The book also ended oddly, not pulling things together in a satisfying way. All of this combined with the overall depressing nature of the novel just made it a difficult read for me. I find the subject of orphan trains fascinating, but Mercy Train simply did not do it justice. In the end, I found the book a depressing slog. Ah, well.
(Readalikes: Reminds me of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline; We Rode the Orphan Trains by Andrea Warren; and a little of Wanderville by Wendy McClure)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (a dozen or so F-bombs plus milder expletives), violence, and mature subject matter
To the FTC, with love: Another library