Two girls born in two polar opposite generations have felt similar impacts of being unwanted. In 1929, Niamh is put on an orphan train when her family suddenly dies in a fire. These orphan trains run across the United States, where they stop at certain stations. Families are encouraged to come and adopt children for no cost. Niamh is adopted by a couple who force her to work in their sewing business. When the business fails, Niamh is bounced to a family with little hygiene. They eat only what creatures the father can scavenge from the forest. When unexpected events occur, Niamh is forced to flee. She is later adopted by a kind couple. Even though they are honest folk, Niamh never feels she can truly share her experiences with them. In the present day, Molly, an orphaned girl whose foster parents don’t like her. She takes on a Gothic facade. When caught stealing a library book, Molly is forced to do fifty hours of community service or face juvie. Her boyfriend’s mother finds her a last minute project cleaning out a ninety year old lady’s attic. As her hours start to run out, Molly finds out just how similar they are. The two find themselves opening up to each other about parts of their lives that have been hidden for far too long. Though their sufferings are from different times, Kline demonstrates that the need for love is ageless.
The novel switches from Niamh’s perspective (1929-1943), to Molly’s perspective (2011). Christina Baker Kline writes about a hidden and often unheard of part of American history, the orphan trains. Orphaned children were shoved onto trains and brought to several American cities for people to adopt. Some children faced unspeakable brutalities, while others were adopted into friendly homes. Kline unveils the hidden suffering these children faced.
Orphan Train is told from both Niamh’s and Molly’s perspective. Both of their stories are written in present tense. Kline uses first person narrative for Niamh’s part. Meanwhile, Molly’s story is told in third person. Kline uses beautiful words to weave a tale of sadness, hope and love. She effectively writes using a fluid mix of short sentences and some longer ones to tell the story of Niamh and Molly. Through the use of future and past telling, it was amazing to see the depth of Niamh, as she has changed over the years. It’s interesting how she changed from a scared, orphaned ten-year-old girl to a confident aged lady.
Orphan Trains is now definitely one of my favourite novels. Unlike a lot of other books, I never felt bored reading it. I don’t usually enjoy reading realistic fiction, but this one really grabbed me. I was hooked from the prologue. Niamh’s part was the right combination of facts and opinions. Molly was a dynamic and round character that I felt like I could connect with more than Niamh. Overall, it was a great read.
Book Reviewed by Sarah Wissmann
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