Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline tells the story of two young girls abandoned in childhood and suffer through the abuse of the welfare system set up to save them. Vivian Daly was orphaned as a young girl and put on a train from New York City to the mid-west in an attempt to find her a home during the Depression. Vivian’s story is told as a mirror to modern day Molly Ayer, who entered the foster care system as a young girl and is months away from aging out.
Neither girl’s childhood was warm and cuddly, but they each have their talisman as a reminder to whom they are and where they came from. A Claddagh necklace for Vivian given by her grandmother in Ireland and a necklace with a fish, a raven, a bear charm given to Molly by her father. Vivian and Molly find each other when Molly needs to perform a community service after getting caught stealing a book from the library. Although a victimless crime, she almost loses her foster placement until her boyfriend’s mom works out a deal with her elderly employer, Vivian. Kline weaves the two stories together as each girl struggles with the life they’ve been forced to lead. Neither had much love in their young lives and do not let people into their heart easily.
In Vivian’s life, the orphan train changed her entire life, but in real life it had to have changed so many more. I don’t know who would have thought to take orphaned or street kids from New York and ship them off to such a different world. The options laid out for older children like Vivian (really Niamh at this point) and Dutchy are bleak and dangerous. The smaller children, like Carmine, have better chances, but they’re still open to potential horrors since there is little oversight or follow-up for any of the children.
This was a great young, adult novel. There were very complex ideas of family and survival that would resonate with many angst filled teenagers as well as adults.
Read April 2015