Working through the tall stack of books on my bedside table, I finally made it to The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. With alternating view points and timelines, one featuring Molly set in 2011 and another a little girl with an ever-changing name starting in 1929, the reader experiences the life of two different orphans. Molly has been shuttled between foster homes since she was nine and has recently gotten into some legal trouble. The other little girl, named Niamh (pronounced Neeve), then Dorothy, then Vivian, loses her entire family in a fire. As new immigrants from Ireland, there is no other family to take her in and so steps in the Children's Aid Society. Their solution is to ship train loads of children to the midwest, placing them with any family that will take them. While well-intended, I'm sure, this didn't always lead to happy lives for these children.
As these two orphans with widely different ages come together they each find someone who understands the other's experience and perspective, someone to whom they can finally tell their stories. These words spoken by one accurately describe the other, no matter than they were spoken decades apart:
I feel myself retreating to someplace deep inside. It is a pitiful kind of childhood, to know that no one loves you or is taking care of you, to always be on the outside looking in. I feel a decade older than my years. I know too much; I have seen people at their worst, at their most desperate and selfish, and this knowledge makes me wary. So I am learning to pretend, to smile and nod, to display empathy I do not feel. I am learning to pass, to look like everyone else, even though I feel broken inside.
This heartbreak is woven throughout the whole book making the reader wish she could reach out and help these girls.I find it so difficult to understand the cruelty in this world and how anyone can treat another person so poorly. And yet, the story of orphan trains is real. This was all based on actual events and the author includes references in the back of the book.
I enjoyed reading this book, even if it did make me sad. The only complaint I had was that the ending felt rushed. The story progresses at a moderately slow pace when suddenly in the last twenty pages or so, it is all wrapped up and put away. Not everything is resolved and much is just skipped over. An open ending provides the opportunity for the reader to come to her own conclusions, but it is also a bit unsatisfying. Still, I liked it and would recommend it.