“Orphan Train: A Novel”, by Christina Baker Kline is about the journey of an orphaned Irish immigrant named Vivian (originally Niamh) in 1929 and Molly Ayers, a modern-day orphan locked into the foster system.
Molly meets Vivian through her boyfriend when she is assigned community service for an incident involving a stolen copy of Jane Eyre from the local library. She will be helping the 90+-year-old clean out her attic. As they begin to go through the boxes Molly learns the story of Vivian and the orphan trains and realizes that her life isn’t the only one that has been hard.
The Orphan Train Movement was a welfare program that transported orphaned children in the large eastern cities (i.e. New York, Boston, etc) to willing foster homes throughout the country. The program was run from 1853 through 1929 and relocated over 250,000 orphaned children. Many of the children ended up as farm workers, or house workers in the foster homes they were adopted by.
Prior to reading this novel I had never heard of the Orphan Train Movement and found it fascinating. I always enjoy it when I learn something new from a book and this one definitely opened my eyes. The characters of Vivian and Molly were well-developed. They were both flawed and damaged as a result of the foster care system, yet they were also resilient. I liked the way the novel went back and forth between the past and present. The transitions were smooth and made sense.
Anyone looking for an interesting historical novel with good character development will enjoy this.