I am so glad that I finally read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.
This is actually two stories in one. One belongs to seventeen-year-old Molly in present day Maine. She has been shuttled from one foster family to another for years. She is caught stealing a library book, Jane Eyre, and her boyfriend manages to finagle a way for her to earn community service hours as her punishment. She will help clean out the attic of his mom’s employer, Vivian. This experience begins a relationship between Molly and Vivian, who have more in common than realized at first glance.
Vivian begins telling Molly her life story for one of Molly’s school projects, beginning with her family’s immigration from Ireland. When a fire erupts in her NYC apartment, Viv’s family is killed. Nine-year-old Viv (then named Niamh) is placed on an orphan train along with other family-less children. These children end up in Minnesota, and are lined up and signed away to a new life. Vivian’s experiences begin with families looking for cheap labor and nothing more. She finally ends with a kind couple that own a store. This store becomes her business and she does well with it. There is additional heartache in her life, but I don’t want to give away all the details!
I loved the links between Molly and Vivian, down to the detail of both keeping a cherished item from their pasts (the claddagh from Vivian’s grandmother and the charms from Molly’s dad). Their pasts have hardened them, yet they are open to each other. In fact, they have provided each other with an important change in life. Their connection is one of several in this story in which events twist to bring the exact right person along at just the right time. I think this is true in real life too.
This story ended with tears of the best kind, and for me, is story telling at its finest.