Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Morrow • $14.99 • ISBN 9780061950728
published April 2013
Was anyone else obsessed with Joan Lowery Nixon's Orphan Train series as a child? It surprises me that there have been so few novels published about this fascinating historical event. From the 1850s up through 1929, children from orphanages on the East Coast were shipped en masse to the Midwest, where they were taken in by strangers. These journeys would incorporate several stops, and at each, the children would be lined up and inspected by strangers. Those not chosen would reboard the train and continue to the next city, to endure that hope and humiliation again. At best, the adopted children became members of the family. At worst, they were treated as virtual slaves—abused, overworked and kept out of school.
In her fifth novel, Christina Baker Kline takes on this little-known slice of American history. Orphan Train intertwines the story of one of these children—Vivian Daly—with that of Molly, a modern young woman who is also an orphan and an outsider. As the two develop a friendship, Vivian shares her story with Molly, finding some sort of healing along the way.
"Get a good night's rest," Mrs. Scratcherd calls from the front of the car. "In the morning you will need to be at your very best. It is vital that you make a good impression. Your drowsiness might well be construed as laziness."
"What if nobody wants me?" one boy asks, and the entire car seems to hold its breath. It is the question on everyone's mind, the question none of us is sure we want the answer to.
Mrs. Scratcherd looks down at Mr. Curran as if she's been waiting for this. "If it happens that you are not chosen at the first stop, you will have several additional opportunities. I cannot think of an instance . . ." She pauses and purses her lips. "It is uncommon for a child to be with us on the return trip to New York."
What are you reading this week?