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Bookworm: 'Orphan Train' shows us it's never too late to start over

By Kathleen Duncan
July 2, 2014 at 2:02 a.m.


Molly Ayer is a foster child living with what will probably be her last family before she turns 18 and ages out of the system. She is in a home where she is tolerated but not loved. She has piercings and a dark, gothic exterior to help her keep people at arm's length, but she is beginning to find it tiresome and lonely to always be wary and mistrustful.

One day, in an act of stupidity and bookish passion we can all sympathize with, she is caught stealing a small, tattered copy of "Jane Eyre" from the library. This act gives her two choices: juvenile detention or community service.

Molly ends up spending her community service hours helping a wealthy, elderly widow named Vivian clean out her attic.

As Molly helps her sort through her belongings, Vivian tells her about traveling to the United States from Ireland as a child only to be orphaned and forced onto the orphan train with hundreds of other children from New York. They were taken or adopted by random families throughout the countryside in Minnesota. These children were taken for everything from free labor to actual love.

As Molly and Vivian share their stories with each other, they find they are more similar than they ever expected.

"Orphan Train," by Christina Baker Kline, is a touching book that intertwines two women and their journeys as orphans during the Great Depression and present day.

Vivian's story overshadows Molly's a bit because it is emotional, detailed and utterly engrossing. Molly's story isn't as dramatic, but we watch as it helps Molly put her life in perspective and have hope for her own future.

Kline's writing is beautifully descriptive with depth and drama that propels the book along effortlessly. I devoured "Orphan Train" in one evening and was genuinely surprised when it ended. I was actually quite indignant when I realized that it was over. Was there not more? How could it just end? I glared at the book for a bit but eventually came to terms with it, however begrudgingly.

Vivian and Molly's story is moving and optimistic. It portrays the power of one person's ability to change a life, and the hope that it's never too late to start anew.

Kat Duncan is the photo and video editor at the Advocate. She loves to read, travel, run and play with her pup, Panda. Chat with her about books on Twitter @Kat Duncan_VA.

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