THE ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

Way back before governments put in place some sort of social welfare safety net for its most vulnerable, to say orphaned or unwanted children had a pretty tough time of it is an understatement. From the work house in the UK, to mass shipments to the colonies, to state or church funded orphanages, the future for such children was pretty bleak. In the US from 1854 to 1929 thousands of children in east coast  cities were put on trains  and sent to the farm lands of the mid west. The trains would stop in small towns, met by anyone looking for a child - to adopt, to find a servant, a farm labourer, a nanny, a general dogsbody. Young teenage boys were the first to go, then babies, then all the others. Those not wanted in that town would be put back on the train and move onto the next town. Some 'adoptions' were successful, many were not. Life was tough for these children, 'supervision' of their adoptions by the overseeing authority very fluid - for example they were supposed to go to school, but many did not.

This novel tells the story of Vivian, a young Irish migrant girl, orphaned when her parents and siblings died in a fire in New York in 1929. At the age of nine she is put on the orphan train and travels to an uncertain and unknown future in Minnesota. Some ninety years later she is in Maine, now very elderly but still very sharp, living in a house full of memories. Into her life comes Molly, a teenage girl of native Indian descent. Molly has had a pretty rough road so far too, and as part of a community sentence she finds herself helping Vivian clean out her attic. Vivian's story slowly unfolds, and as the relationship between the old lady and the troubled Molly grows, Molly herself changes and grows, finding her own internal strengths and resilience.

It is a marvellous story, beautifully told, with a number of twists and surprises in it. The beauty and strength of this story lies in what the true meaning of family is, the relationships we form, the kindness of those around us, and how these truly define and cement our place in the world. Wonderful reading. Warning  - have tissues handy. 

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