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Monday, November 01, 2021

Orphan Train Novel Uplifting and Hopeful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Traveling west on an orphan train is supposed to give impoverished kids from dirty, crowded New York City a chance at a better life. But hope is not exactly what Charles, Patrick, and Opal are feeling as they're paraded in front of prospective "parents" and prodded like animals. Eighteen-year-old Charles' bulk makes him attractive as a farmhand, but his bruised face brands him as a troublemaker. Patrick, a 14-year-old Irish immigrant, is passed over because of his foreign accent. Tiny, silent Opal is in obvious need of a loving home, but the 8-year-old is so haunted by her past that others are put off by her skittishness. By the time they near their last stop, the trio of misfits has had enough. Deciding that they're enough for each other, they hop the train in Montana, determined to survive on their own. 

A desperate act brings the children to the attention of Nara Stewart, a hard-working spinster who runs a cattle ranch with her father. Although she's loathe to admit it, Nara could use help working her land. She's got enough problems on her hands what with trying to prove herself to her father while trying to keep her growing, forbidden feelings for a Native American man under control. The last thing she needs is three scraggly orphans causing her more stress. Reluctantly, she puts Charles, Patrick, and Opal to work, expecting they'll run off rather than buckle down. Life on the ranch and in a rough frontier town is not easy for any of them, but as the days pass, the kids and the Stewarts are forming something that almost resembles...a family. With crises pummeling them on every front, will the makeshift group solidify into the thing all of them most need? Or will the tentative bond dissolve when trouble arrives on their doorstep?

As an adoptive mother, I'm fascinated by books about orphans, found family, the history of foster care/adoption, etc. I've read a few books about the orphan trains, a very interesting subject, so I was all in for You Belong Here Now, a debut novel by Dianna Rostad. I enjoyed the 1920's Montana setting, which felt vivid and authentic to me. I also liked the Stewart family, whose warmth is palpable, even if not all of them are the touchy-feely type. The kids at the center of the story are, of course, sympathetic. It's simple to root for their happiness. All of these things made You Belong Here Now a compelling and satisfying read for me. Which isn't to say I loved every word. With little in the way of plot, the story sometimes feels long and repetitive. Rostad's writing style is often more tell than show, so that made things drag even more. I also would have liked more character development from certain of the book's cast members. All in all, though, I enjoyed this novel, which is mostly uplifting and hopeful. Not all of its ribbons are tied up in neat bows at the end, but the novel is still a satisfying read.


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. I just finished reading this one! For me it was an uneven read, I loved certain parts of it, but didn't love some of the other less believable parts. I did really like the three orphans. I'm doing a haiku review of it later this month.

    1. I read this book back in June, so I had to go over my notes and refresh my memory of the story before writing a review. The review I wrote was very so-so. Before posting it, I went to Goodreads and re-read the review I posted there right after finishing the book. It was more positive, so I decided to just copy and paste that one since it was fresher! Weird, though, that I remember liking it less than I actually did according to my Goodreads review...I look forward to reading your review of YOU BELONG HERE NOW. Your haiku reviews are always fun :)

  2. I love the idea of a formed family too. The setting alone would be enough to sell me on this one, but the way the characters come together is something quietly beautiful.

    1. I'm always up for a found family novel!

  3. When I read this one back in March, I had a hard time deciding if it was really aimed at adults. To me, it read more like a YA or New Adult kind of book because of the way the material was handled. I did end up liking it well enough that I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys orphan train books as much as I do. I always learn something from those books.

    1. True. The prose is definitely more simplistic and there's not as much depth to the story as you would expect from an adult novel.

  4. This sounds like an interesting set-up! I don't usually read historical fiction, but I like the sound of the concept for this one.

    1. I think it's a really approachable novel, as far as hist-fic goes. I hope you enjoy it if you decide to read it.

  5. I've never heard of the Orphan Trains, what a sad and interesting phenomenon!

    1. It's one of those things that I think started with good intentions and probably led to some successful outcomes. From what I've read about it, though, a lot of kids were cruelly exploited because of it. Sad.

  6. I love books where people find the people they need most and make their own family. This sounds like it could have been wonderful with a bit of polishing.

  7. Ive read Orphan Train by was heartbreaking and emotional!


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