This is another book that came to me courtesy of my fellow historical-fiction-loving aunt. She read it, and thinking I would enjoy it, loaned it to me. She was correct.
Orphan Train is one of several books written about the practice of transporting orphaned children from New York City to the Midwest for adoption. Though the book was characterized as literary fiction, it read more like a young adult book to me. That isn’t saying anything against the story, however.
There is a strong element of mystery throughout the story as I wondered how Niamh went from being an orphan to owning a store to being a rich, old lady. The story is told in two different time periods – the late 1920s and the early 2000s – and it’s about two orphans in similar, but not exactly the same, situation who find each other and weave their lives together. One theme seems to be that things aren’t always what they seem, with the “moral” being to not assume that someone has always had it easy. Also, things that seem random will make sense one day and feel like they were meant to be.
Orphan Train is also very much a story of survival – how two different people in two different, but similar situations, in two different time periods survived. Other than the obvious differences because of the time periods, the way Niamh and Molly became orphans are different. The similarities are mostly in how they both bounced from family to family until they found one that fits.
This book gave me a good insight into a world about which I know very little. The way orphans were handled in 1929 and today is not so different; kids get placed with people who may not treat them right and can be turned out on a whim. They can’t strive for more because they feel like they’re lucky just to have a roof, so they grow up feeling undervalued. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen and heard, the foster care system of today doesn’t seem much different in this respect than the orphan trains.
Another theme that runs throughout the story is baggage; what people bring with them and what they leave behind as they journey throughout their lives. Most of the time, baggage consists of more than physical things, or it can be just a few things, but it’s always there.
Historical fiction readers and readers who like the melding of two time periods will enjoy this book. It was a good story, well written, that made me think. I read this book in four days, so on a can’t-put-it-down-scale of one for I couldn’t even finish it to ten for I was up until the wee morning hours, I give it a nine.