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Orphan Train    by Christina Baker Kline order for
Orphan Train
by Christina Baker Kline
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2013 (2013)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Between 1854 and 1929, over two hundred thousand orphaned, abandoned and homeless children were shipped by train from the East Coast to the Midwest for adoption. Some of these children were welcomed into loving homes. The majority, however, were adopted into a life of servitude; the boys put to work as farm hands and the girls as drudges inside the house.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is the fictionalized story of one of these children. Niamh was named by her Irish Catholic parents. After immigrating to America, her parents and twin brothers died in a tenement fire. Niamh was a perfect candidate for the Orphan Train. Arriving in the Midwest, she is adopted by a family who change her name to Dorothy! Her story as an orphan is hard to read. Especially when you keep reminding yourself that it is taken from real life.

We then shift to today and Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer, a foster child who is working off a term of community service, helping ninety-one year-old Vivian clear out her attic. Vivian's past as one of the orphans is brought to light as they work together and become friends. The question of whether any of Vivian's (once Niamh) family survived that tenement fire is explored by Molly, much to Vivian's amazement at the new fangled inventions that allow them to delve into the past.

Orphan Train is sad and reading of the cavalier way these poor kids were discarded got my dander up. The author states 'she wanted to write about the pervasive and insidious legacy of trauma the way events beyond our control can shape and define our lives.' She does so, telling her story with great compassion and empathy as well as admirable skill.

Orphan Train is well worth the read. If for no other reason than to realize that politicians were no smarter then than they are today. The disregard for those less fortunate than themselves is, to me, inexcusable.

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