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In 2011, a teen girl named Molly is close to aging out of foster care–but in the meantime, she remains at the mercy of the system. When she gets in some minor trouble, a friend arranges for her to complete her community service with a local elderly woman who needs help cleaning her attic.
As she helps Vivian sort through her memories, a story emerges: an orphaned girl in the 1920s, loaded onto a train and placed with families in Minnesota. What follows are years of loneliness, mistreatment, and searching for a place to belong.
The history of the orphan trains is interesting; more than 200,000 orphans were shuttled to rural areas of the country. The present-day storyline was weaker than Vivian’s story–I would have preferred that her story stood alone–but I enjoyed learning about this little-known piece of history.
The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.
Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.
Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.