“Orphan Train” written by Christina Baker Kline is the story of a 91 year old widow named Vivian Daly who has an attic full of memories that she hasn’t ever faced. Vivian was orphaned as a young girl and rode the “orphan train” to find a new home and family. These orphan trains ran in our country from 1853 until 1929 and relocated 250,000 kids mostly in the midwest. These trains were later replaced by foster care. I had no idea.
In the novel, Vivian is introduced to Molly Ayer, a 17 year old girl who is in the current day foster system. Molly is assigned to do community service with Vivian for committing a petty crime. Vivan asks Molly to help her clean out her attic, but as the story progresses you learn that Vivian isn’t really interested in throwing anything away; she really wants to share the memories of her childhood with someone.
The book is essentially two differents stories for most of the book. It is told in the first person voice of Vivian as she makes her way across the country and eventually finds her “home”. It then skips to the present day in the voice of Molly which is told in the third person as she and Vivian have discussions about the parallels between their lives.
As I read the book it got me thinking about what really makes a home? At one point in the book Vivian is coming home from church with her foster parents and describes the following: “As the three of us approach the house I see it as if for the first time- the porch light shining, an evergreen wreath on the door, the black iron railing and neatly shoveled walkway. Inside, behind a curtain, a lamp in the living room glows. It’s a pleasant place to return to. A home.”
And so with the holidays aproaching and we turn to thoughts of home, I will keep that in mind. Home should be a pleasant place to return to.
In closing, this would be a good book club book. There are a lot of discussion topics. It’s fairly light with only 273 pages so most people could get through it in a month. The writing is good, and the first person Vivian with the third person Molly is interesting. And of course, aren’t readers always thankful for a good historical fiction book with a reminder about what makes for a good home?