Orphan Train: A Novel

Orphan Train: A Novel - Christina Baker Kline Molly Ayers is about to age out of the foster-care system. One stupid mistake, attempting to steal a library book, forces her to accept community service hours or be placed in juvenile detention or jail. Molly chooses community service but isn't sure where she'll be able to get the hours she needs. Fortunately Molly's boyfriend Jack is able to arrange for Molly to help an elderly woman clean out her attic for her hours. Molly stands out in Spruce Harbor, Maine. She dresses in Goth style in an effort to keep people away. If people don't get close, she won't have to worry about them leaving or hurting her. Molly has been in foster care for nine years and lived in more than twelve foster homes. Some homes were good and some were very bad. Her current foster father, Ralph Thibodeau, is anxious to provide a stable home for Molly. Ralph's wife, Dina, doesn't like the hassle of another mouth to feed or dealing with any of the problems that Molly faces. Jack is the only person she's really connected with in Spruce Harbor until she meets Vivian.

Vivian Daly was born Niamh (pronounced Neev) Power in Ireland in 1909. She immigrated to the US with her family in the late 1920s and became an orphan in 1929. The Children's Aid Society of New York gathered her and other orphans up and shipped them via train to the Midwest to be adopted. Her name was changed to Dorothy along the way and she was first sent to live with Mr. and Mrs. Byrne in Albans, Minnesota where she basically became an indentured servant sewing women's clothing. After the stock market crash and loss of incoming business, she is sent to live with Mr. and Mrs. Grotto as a mother's helper, where she lives in squalor and has to deal with being molested by Mr. Grotto. After running away from the Grotto family and temporarily being taken in by her school teacher, Miss Larsen, she is finally adopted by a loving family and formally becomes Vivian Nielsen (named after the Nielsen's dead daughter). She later marries and remarries and operates a successful business before retiring from Minnesota to Maine.

Vivian and Molly have a lot in common due to their backgrounds as orphans. Molly quickly learns about Vivian's life as an orphan and the trials of being on the "orphan train." Jack and his mother Terry (Vivian's housekeeper), feel that Molly is taking advantage of Vivian but Molly quickly explains that she is helping Vivian revisit and organize the tokens of her past since Vivian doesn't really want to part with anything.

Orphan Train mixes happy with sad, good with bad, and pretty with ugly, much like life to tell an interesting story of two women born seventy-four years apart with similar lives as orphans. I found all of the characters to be fully developed and rather enjoyed the seesaw presentation of past and present. I've got to say that I was initially drawn to the story because one of the characters is named Vivian (not a lot of us in the world). I could go on and on and on about this book, but let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Orphan Train. If you enjoyed reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh or just want a great read, then I highly recommend Orphan Train.