This is the story of Molly, a 17-year old orphan on her umpteenth foster family, and Vivian, a 92-year old survivor on one of the infamous Orphan Trains that transported orphaned, homeless and abandoned children from the East to the Midwest from 1854 to 1929. Vivian was only one of about 200,000 orphan train children. I had a hard time grappling with that number, and then I googled how many kids are in foster care in the US today and it’s more than twice the number of orphan train children, or about 415,000+. So basically we’ve been throwing kids away our entire national life.
A lot of recent YA novels are about throwaway children and many of those are about kids trying to survive in the broken US foster care system (Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits series, Bill Cameron’s Property of the State, jumping genres and countries the movie Lion). They all share one trait: they are often agonizing reads. Jeebus, can these kids ever get a break?
This book isn’t like that. I like Molly and Vivian a lot, although I understood Molly better. They’re both strong individuals determined to make a life for themselves, and Vivian’s even strong enough to start over at 92. They have baggage, of course, who wouldn’t given their beginnings.
When Vivian describes how it felt to be at the mercy of strangers, Molly nods. She knows full well what it’s like to tamp down your natural inclinations, to force a smile when you feel numb. After a while you don’t know what your own needs are anymore. You’re grateful for the slightest hint of kindness, and then, as you get older, suspicious. Why would anyone do anything for you without expecting something in return? And anyway–most of the time they don’t. More often than not, you see the worst of people. You learn that most adults lie. That most people only look out for themselves. That you are only as interesting as you are useful to someone.
Ouch, but it’s earned life experience, and it’s theirs. Despite that they find ways to reach out to each other, and in the end, to save each other. Or maybe help each other save themselves. Recommended.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.