Each of us is born with an inherent desire to belong–to some place or to someone. Human beings define themselves by what or whom they call “home.” In Orphan Train, author Christina Baker Kline turns this desire on its head and explores what happens when her two narrators have the place and people that they belong to torn from them. Vivian Daly is in her later years when she agrees to let foster teen Molly Ayer perform community service hours at her house. As the two unpack boxes of Vivian’s possessions, they realize that they have both lost the families and homeplaces that they were born into, and if Vivian can confront her past, she might show Molly a way to survive her loss and establish “home” on her own terms.
The book’s title refers to a little-known chapter of American history. Between 1854 and 1929, “orphan trains” carried abandoned children from East Coast cities to Midwest farmlands, where families often adopted the children to perform hard labor. This is the story of Vivian who lost her entire family shortly after they immigrated to New York from Ireland before the Great Depression. Her only touchstone is a Claddagh necklace given to her by her grandmother before Vivian and her immediate family left Ireland.
A necklace is all that Molly has left of her father and her Native American heritage. After losing her dad to a car accident and her mother to drugs, Molly wears the charm necklace that her dad gave her as a way of remembering who she is. Despite the fact that Molly has been shuffled from one foster home to another. Christine Baker Kline writes about the two necklaces and what they meant to Vivian and Molly in the guest post “A Tale of Two Necklaces” on the She Reads website. Orphan Train is the May She Reads Selection. My fellow bloggers in the She Reads network have written some beautiful posts about the novel. You can learn more from them here: “May She Reads Selection Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.”