I’ve been hearing about this book for awhile now… some have said, “Nah, don’t bother” and others have said, “You must read this!” So I finally read it to see what the fuss was about… And I’m actually somewhere in between on this one.
The story is an historical fictional account of the orphan trains, the trains that ferried hundreds of orphans under the care of the Children’s Aid Society in NYC to the midwest, to find homes for them. The children were taken by a few adults who would stop at various train stations and would show the children on a stage, like an auction, and people would come to take them in. Many were given good homes and an education, but probably many more were used as free labor on farms and in private homes, mistreated and misused.
This particular story is about Molly, who is a foster child who is sentenced to do community service working for an elderly woman, Vivian, helping her to clean out her attic. As the two delve into the boxes in the attic, Vivian shares her memories of what lies in them and divulges her experiences, through flashbacks, of being an orphan and where her orphan train led her. The two come to form a close friendship based on their shared experiences.
I think the value of this book does not lie in the quality of the writing, which is only fair, or even in the character development, which I think is unexpectedly flat. While Vivian’s story is interesting, it is told in a very clinical, detached way that did not fully engage me; and Molly, who started out as a really interesting character, remained superficial.
The value of the book is really the description of the orphan trains themselves. I think it is important to know about this dark spot in our history. The Children’s Aid Society does some extraordinary work with children in foster care today, but its roots are tainted by this cold history.
FOOTNOTE: If you want to learn about the orphan trains, another book to read is The Chaperone by Liane Moriarty. It gives slightly less detail about the trains, but it is a beautifully written story that is sure to completely engage you!