During a recent one day sale on Amazon, I bought ORPHAN TRAIN for only a few dollars for my Kindle. I have read other books about the real orphan trains: trains full of NYC street urchins that brought them to the Midwest for “adoption” and a new life in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
In ORPHAN TRAIN, the story flips between current day foster kid, Molly, who is doing community service at an elderly woman’s house, and the Irish immigrant girl Niamh, whose family perishes in a fire in the late 1920’s. Molly is part Native American and while not an orphan (her mother is alive), she is in the foster care system and has moved about many times. She is almost eighteen and hopes to stay out of trouble until then. Unfortunately, she chooses to steal a copy of “Jane Eyre” from the library and has to do community service to make up for her theft. The elderly woman she works for (they are cleaning her attic) is named Vivian. She is a wealthy widow and she tells Molly the stories behind the items in her attic. Vivian is really Niamh, though – a young Irish girl who leaves NYC after her family supposedly all dies in a tenement fire. Niamh’s tenacity to survive and her integrity to be the best she can be given her circumstances is mirrored in modern day Molly. Over time the two stories connect and we see how each character has become who she is at the end.
I loved reading this story. I always find historical fiction interesting, and Niamh’s story held my attention. My only dislike in the book was the character of Molly’s foster mother, whom I found to be almost a caricature. Also the ending wrapped up quickly and neatly – I would have loved to follow Niamh’s earlier life a bit longer.
In all, I’d recommend it if you like to read about this period in history.
Never heard of the orphan trains? Check out the PBS documentary (or see the references on their page) at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/orphan/