It's 2011 in the fictional town of Spruce Harbor, Maine, when this book begins. Molly Ayer, a 17-year-old Native American foster child, is given community service when she tries to steal a library book.*
Her community service project is to help 91-year-old Vivian Daly to clean out her attic. Naturally, every item being stored up there is a reminder for Vivian of the hard life she has lived - and her story is told in flashback.
Vivian, an Irish immigrant originally named Niamh Power, loses her parents, brothers, and sister in a tenement fire in New York City in 1929. She is taken in by the Children's Aid Society and put on an orphan train heading out west. She winds up in Minnesota, where she has a couple of really bad placements before ending up in a good place, and goes through a couple name changes. Molly sees a lot of parallels between her life and Vivian's, and the two develop a heart-warming relationship.
This is an upbeat story with a little bit of a surprise near the end. I enjoyed this novel, which is based on a real episode in American history. The orphan trains ran from 1853 to 1929, and moved about a quarter of a million children (many of them not orphaned) to another (sometimes better) life. Christina Baker Kline did a lot of research on orphan trains, and her familiarity with both Maine and Minnesota is evident in her descriptions. I'd like to read some nonfiction too, with true stories of the train riders.
*A note to the author and readers - most libraries don't punish kids for taking old, beat-up library copies of books. The public library I used to work for even gave mass-market paperbacks generic bar codes - in other words, they didn't really track them, and you could walk out of the library with them if you really wanted to. I really resented this stereotype of the mean old librarian.
© Amanda Pape - 2014
[I won 10 paperback copies of this book for my book club from the Book Report Network. My copy will be donated to my university library.]