This was the first selection of the new year for my book club, chosen somewhat for length, something short to start off the year, and because there were book club questions in the back of the book. I have picked books to read for worse reasons, so away we went. Though fiction, this book is the fictionally telling of what to me was an unknown part of American history
From 1854 to 1929, orphan children in New York were placed on trains by a group called the “Children’s Aid Society” and sent to various parts of the Midwest to find new homes and new families. This. Really. Happened. These orphans were mostly immigrants, who found themselves alone in a new world so arguably the train could improve their station, but this obviously wasn’t a guarantee. Some children found themselves worse off than before, as laborers in unforgiving conditions with cold and uncaring parents. The subject matter of this book was utterly fascinating. Kline takes us back and forth from the late early 1900s to 2011, as we follow the struggles of a modern orphan in the foster care system who is trying to save herself from juvenile detention by helping an old and isolated woman clean out her attic. From what I’ve already said, I think you can see where this story is going: she learns that the old woman, who she paints as privileged, has lived a hard life as an orphan and was an Irish immigrant and traveler on the aforementioned train.
Overall, I wasn’t impressed with this book. Though the subject matter was fascinating, the writing and the story left a lot to be desired. Everything was just very obvious, and the writing was sophomoric. Kline manages the jumps from past to present effectively, but cliches in plot devices abound. For me there were few surprises, and the only “plot twist” I didn’t see coming was painful, and for me didn’t add anything to the story other than more sorrow.
I would recommend doing research to learn about the Orphan Train, and if you are looking for something innocuous, this is a quick read. Also, for the record, I think I’m officially over the official book club questions provided with novels. Occasionally I have seen a few things to ponder of interest, but these were so painful and obvious that we mostly just laughed about them. That of course, is its own fun.