ORPHAN TRAIN had already caught my attention mainly because of the historical element and, of course, the characters.
ORPHAN TRAIN tells the stories of two seemingly very different people from two separate times. First there is Molly Ayer, a Penobscot Indian teenage girl living in Maine with a foster family. One of many in her young life. Though things with her current foster family aren't great, Molly tries to make the best of it and tries to get along until she she's eighteen, which is only months away. She is a good student, has a boyfriend, Jack, and is a vegetarian, which only adds to the strain between Molly and her foster mother. Molly ends up on probation and has to perform 50 hours of community service for stealing a book from the local library - a move Molly admits was pretty dumb. With Jack's help, Molly is able to work off her hours helping ninety-one year old Vivian Daly clean out the attic of the old mansion she lives in. Molly figures it will be easy work that will go by quickly so she can mark off her hours and be done with the community service.
Vivian Daly is a frail woman with no family but an attic full of memories from the Depression Era of which she grew up in. Right away, Molly can see that each box holds deep memories for Vivian and she is having trouble letting go and in fact, may not want to get rid of after all.
When Molly gets an interesting assignment for one of her classes to interview someone who has had to move through life taking only the belongings that they could carry and the most important items to them, she decides to interview Vivian. As Vivian tells her fascinating story of being an immigrant from Ireland in the late 20's, to becoming an orphan soon after and being put on a train to Minnesota by the Childrens Aid Society to find a home, Molly realizes they have more in common than she could possibly have thought. As the days go by, a bond develops between these two women and both their lives are changed forever.
I won't beat around the bush - I absolutely loved this novel. Vivian's story, though heartbreaking, was riveting and was so well told. It was actually Vivian's perspective as well, so it was first hand knowledge of all the tragic circumstances ten-year old Vivian went through. Alternating between Vivian telling her story and then back to 2011 with Molly's story being told as it was happening by a third party was the perfect way to tell both of these women's stories. But I must say, Vivian is who completely sucked me in. I'm a sucker for good historical fiction and the era in which her story took place was fascinating to me. First was The Depression, then World War II. Vivian's life was affected deeply by both of these events.
What I liked about his book is that these two people, over seventy years apart were living similar lives as orphans and foster children. Sadly, their experiences were similar, yet they found a connection to each other and were able to make each other's lives better and give them hope. Their bond was touching and genuine. It goes to show that just by meeting one person that you think you have nothing in common with, it can change your life. This was a terrific selection by our book club and I thank them for the opportunity to read it.
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Published:: April 2, 2013
Length: 304 pages