This post contains affiliate links. The year is 2011, and Molly Ayer is in yet another foster home, the last of many. She’s facing time in a juvenile detention center for stealing a book from the library. Instead of doing time, her boyfriend arranges for her to spend 50 hours helping a 91 year-old woman, Vivian Daly, clean up her cluttered attic. So starts Orphan Train. by Christina Baker Kline.
About Orphan Trains
I only found out about orphan trains a few years ago. Run from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, orphans took these trains from towns on the East Coast to Midwest towns where the children were placed with families. The youngest orphans did best because childless families adopted them. The older boys were often taken as farm hands (free labor), and the older girls were usually chosen last. The families who chose older girls saw them as free labor. They often had to cook, sew, and take care of younger children. These older children were frequently abused, and the girls had to contend with potential sexual abuse.
About Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Vivian Daly was a child who rode the orphan train from New York City to Minnesota. She was nine years old at the time, and was an orphan because her family died in a fire. Vivian had a very difficult life with some of her placements. In fact, she was placed three different times before she finally found a home she could stay in.
Vivian and Molly take a liking to one another, in part because they were both orphans, and in part because they both come from groups that are often looked down upon. (Vivian was an Irish Catholic immigrant when she was orphaned, and Molly is a Penobscot Indian.)
While Molly puts in her time helping Vivian declutter her attic, Molly learns all of the details of Vivian’s tumultuous life.
I really enjoyed Orphan Train. In part because I learned more about the orphan trains and in part because I knew Vivian’s story, while fiction, probably is very much like many nine and ten-year old girls who were orphaned.
While there are many people who are not happy with our current foster care system, at least there is a system in place. These children 125 years ago had no security net if their parents died or were unable to take care of them.
I read this story in three days. It’s inspired me to find some non-fiction books about the orphan trains so I can learn more.
I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.