Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?
As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outside being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.
Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.
I was given this book by my Aunt (when I say given I mean that she sent me home with a book stack like five books tall and I wasn’t really given a choice or opinion about it) to borrow because it really left an impression on her. I’m really glad she gave me no choice in borrowing this book because I have many feelings about it. It’s not a book that I would generally choose for myself to read. It’s a super serious book and I tend to stick to fun, lighter topics or books that have deeper meanings. I really enjoyed this story though, it was eye opening and heart wrenching and made me feel all of the emotions.
Orphan Train is the story of a young girl that’s been screwed again and again by the foster system. She’s with yet another set of foster parents, one that wanted her and one that agreed to make her husband happy and she never lets Molly forget it. Molly’s foster mother is a bitch. There’s no other way to say it. She’s unnecessarily mean and goes out of her way to make life harder for Molly. With her foster father as the middleman that never really picks a side between Molly and his wife, he just hopes they’ll work it out. His lack of any sort of intervention is really frustrating to me since he’s the one that wanted to foster Molly in the first place. Enough about them, they suck.
Molly is a girl I could get along with. She’s been through a lot in the short amount of years she’s been alive. Regardless of all of that, she has a pretty good attitude. She tries to maintain a ‘whatever’ attitude as if she doesn’t care about anything, but we get to see her crack and actually let herself care about people in her life (but not her foster parents because they suck). It was really nice to see Molly come out of her shell once she meets Vivian, our other main character. Vivian is a very interesting character because we meet her at the end of her life. We see that she’s made something for herself. She’s a wealthy widow that lives in a big beautiful house. Going from knowing her in this part of her life to learning about the struggles of her childhood was interesting. I liked it because reading about all of the complicated (sometimes horrible) things that Vivian endured was hard, but we already knew that it got better because of her situation in the present day. Reading Vivan’s story was honestly hard. She endures so much, so many traumatizing and horrible things for a girl so young, but through all of it she doesn’t give up. If I were her, I would have just given up on everything, but she doesn’t. She kept moving forward, looking at the positive things like friends she’s made and getting to go to school until eventually, life gets better. I enjoyed getting to see what made Vivian into the person that she is today.
My favorite thing about this story was probably the way that it’s written. Orphan Train is written with two alternating perspectives. The first perspective is the present day where we get to follow Molly as she meets Vivian. They connect and learn how alike they really are. The second point of view is Vivian’s life as she’s telling her story to Molly. I thought it was written really well in a thought-provoking way. The alternating perspectives gave us just enough information to see the similarities between these two orphans despite the different time periods they grew up in. I really enjoyed that it’s written in a way to set up to compare and contrast the orphan experience with a then and now kind of effect.
Overall I really enjoyed this story of two independent but strong women who learn to accept the help of those who care about them, even though they don’t want to. I appreciate that they both learned so much about themselves through the stories of each other. Finally, I love that even though Molly and Vivian both went through some series struggles, they came out on top and got their own happy ending (of sorts.)
Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.
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