"Even when the rainbow seems to pass right by me....I'm still finding Gold in the clouds....."

05 May 2015

2015 Book Review #13: Orphan Train

This was a really easy and quick read.

I enjoyed this book alot.  It was recommended to me by the library assistant at the elementary school where I work.  I had also seen it on the NY Times bestseller list for quite a number of weeks and I think one of the bloggers from the FFF talked about reading it.

The genre is historical fiction and it is well researched and well-written.

The author is new to me but I think I will look up some of her other novels.


In the years between 1854 and 1929, here in the United States of American, orphaned children and teenagers were put on trains from New York City and other East Coast cities  and sent out west to be "chosen" by families to work the farms.  Many of the children were not treated well.

In this fiction story, a young girl, about nine years old, is sent from NYC to Minnesota because her parents have died as well as her twin brothers.  Her little sister Maisie has an unknown fate.  Vivian, as the little girl came to be known by, had a tough time finding just the right family.  Once she did, she blossomed into a young woman with a good business sense and with a lot of determination.  She eventually made her way back east later in life and settled on Mount Desert Island, near Bar Harbor, Maine.  The memories of her upbringing are a blur.

Meanwhile, 17 year old Molly Ayer agrees to take on a community service project instead of going to the juvenile detention center.  It is 2011.  She is going to be helping an elderly woman (age 91) clean out the attic.  The woman is Vivian...the Irish immigrant who was on the orphan train!  And Molly discovers upon doing some research, that Vivian's little sister Maisie (nickname for Margaret) did NOT die in the apartment fire in NYC in 1929!!  What DID happen to her??

Molly discovers that even though she is a Penobscot Native American, she isn't that much different from Ireland-born Vivian. Molly has been in and out of foster homes for most of her life and has never really belonged anywhere.  She has been basically abandoned by her biological mother.  And she also has unanswered questions about the past.  She not only is helping Vivian sort through old boxes of stuff from the past, but she has to do a research project for her History class about a time when someone had to move.....what did they carry with them?  What did they leave behind??  She decides to interview Vivian.  And in the process she learns things not just about Vivian but about her self.


This story moves between Maine in 2011 and between the Depression era in Minnesota.  Some of the story is told in Vivian's voice (Dorothy for some of the book and her original Irish name, Niamh, pronounced Neev) from the time she leaves Ireland to her life in Maine.  And some of the chapters are told in Molly's voice.

I found myself wondering why, in school, we never really learned about these orphan trains and all that occurred in that time in history here in the USA.  That part of the story was just a bit depressing.....and yet, those things really happened.  Orphans really were sent across the country to find families.  Some got lucky and yet too many were sent to abusive or harsh homes.

I found myself cheering Molly on to do well.....to stop her destructive behaviors and focus on her future.

I found my self weeping for the innocence lost when Dorothy had to endure an abusive foster family.

I loved the part of the story that talked about Dorothy (before she became Vivian) living with her teacher Miss Larson and the wonderful way Miss Larson helped her. 

The book depicts the emotional struggles of abandonment and loss of family but also depicts how brave and resilient the human spirit is in times of adversity.

In my opinion, this book is appropriate for ages 17 and older (due to some content)

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I rate this a 10.

1 comment:

Susanne said...

I picked this book up in Costco, put it in my cart and then put it back thinking I'd borrow it from the library instead. It sounds good. I've also read another one on Irish orphans on the orphan train that I really loved call My Heart Remembers by Kim Vogel Sawyer. It's about 3 siblings that were separated during that time.