Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline highlights an under-shone aspect of American history in the midst of a story with characters who are just trying to finding their family and their sense of place in the world.
In Orphan Train, you meet Molly, a teenaged girl in 2011 who is doing community service with Vivian, a 91 year old woman. Vivian was a girl who was orphaned and ended up on a train from New York to Minnesota in 1929 to live with families who just wanted free labour. The novel transitions between Molly’s present day search for family and historical chapters about Vivians tumultuous childhood for the same search for a cherished sense of family.
What I liked so much about Orphan Train is that it told a real facet of history, even the characters used to convey a slice of that history are fictionalized. It’s heartbreaking to read about what little protection children had during that era. Even though it’s not perfect now, at least children today have some semblance of protection under the law; they can’t just be “adopted” as free child labour for example.
Vivian’s life is a sad one, her parents gone, being passed from family to family before she finally found happiness.
A lot of what I know about the Great Depression and World War II era has to do with the stock market crash, how the war was brewing before it happened, and the actual war. Orphan Train is an aspect of that period that highlights what it may have been like for orphaned children growing up then. I thought it was interesting to learn about it; it is interesting to fill out the history during that period of time.