“Orphan Train”, by Christina Baker Klein

Overall Rating: 4/5

Read it, or save your time?  A beautifully written story about an underexposed piece of American history that will really touch your heart.

What’s it about?   Molly is seventeen-years-old and has been in and out of the foster care system for as long as she can remember. Recently arrested for petty theft, she is sentenced to fifty hours of community service in lieu of time in a juvenile detention center.  Vivien is a kindly ninety-one year old woman living in a large, rambling house in Maine filled to the brim with decades of possessions, some of which hide a turbulent and secret past.

What could they possibly have in common?

Molly serves her mandated hours assisting Vivien sort through her attic, and they develop an unlikely and deep friendship.  As Vivien takes you back to the 1930’s and shares her troubling, heartfelt story as an orphan forced to leave her home on a train West, where she lived in squalid conditions and used as slave labor, a story of resilience, compassion, and hope unfolds.

Reviewer’s Note:  Very sad and shocking that the orphan train movement really existed.  From 1854-1929, an estimated 200,000 orphaned children were taken from their homes on the East Coast and sent to the rural Midwest for adoption.   Children were paraded on train platforms, and potential ‘families’ (none of whom were screened or vetted) were able to pick them right out of the line.  If the families were not satisfied after a short period of time, they were able to return the children.  Oftentimes, the children were used as servants and laborers, and stripped of their birth certificates, heritage, and ethnic identities.

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