Friday, July 17, 2015

Orphan Train: a story of a piece of unknown history

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is the story of one woman’s story of her experience on the Orphan Train. The Orphan Train is the nickname of the time when more than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children from New York City were transported to adopted homes in the Midwest between 1854-1929. Many of the children, were first-generation Irish-Catholic immigrants and often found themselves in situations of indentured servitude rather than adopted families. The program was founded by Charles Loring Brace who believed that work, educated and firm but compassionate Christian family values would save these children was a life of poverty.

The story opens with Molly, a teenager in a foster home. Her foster father really tries to do right by this commitment to being a foster parent and his wife who wants nothing to do with Molly. Molly is in trouble because she tried to steal a book from the local library and now has to do community service in order to stay out of juvie. She agrees to help organize the attic of Vivian Daly, an elderly widow who lives in a mansion. As she is organizing the attic, Vivian tells Molly the history behind each piece which leads her to tell the story of her life in America. The story then flashback to 1929, 9 year old Niamh is taking care of her baby sister when tragedy strikes. She is the only survivor in a tenement fire. She is sent on the Orphan Train where she is sent to family and family. Each one worse than the one before. She must endure harsh working conditions to even harsher living conditions when a horrific incident occurs and she is rescued by a community who sees the life she has been sent to live. Through Vivian’s story, Molly learns that someone can rise above a situation they did not ask for or did nothing to deserve.

I enjoyed Orphan Train as it told a piece of history that I was aware of but didn’t know much about. I also enjoyed how Vivian’s experience help Molly rise above her situation. However, I felt certain areas were left underdeveloped, for instance her foster mother’s hostility. Why did she agree to be a foster parent when it was obviously she didn’t want to be one? Also how Molly ended up in foster care is barely mentioned and there were hints as to why but I feel wasn’t fully explained. Despite these questions, I enjoyed the story. There were moments of shock and horror as Vivian lived in situations that she couldn’t get out of knowing that there was some truth to what these children faced. I highly recommend Orphan Train