This was a book club read, and not one I probably would have picked up on my own. Told in two timelines, we have two main POV characters: Molly Ayer, a 17 year old foster kid who is months away from aging out of the system. Molly is tough, and guarded, and like many foster kids, has been bounced around from placement to placement. Caught trying to steal a library book, Molly has to complete community service hours with nonagenarian Vivian, in order to avoid being sent to juvie.
Our second main character is Niamh, a young Irish girl immigrating to America with her family. Niamh faces tragedy upon tragedy. Her family dies in an apartment fire, and she is sent on an Orphan Train to the Midwest. Ultimately, of course, the two storylines begin to merge, and we get a better understanding of Vivian’s true history.
The history of the Orphan Trains, which relocated hundreds of thousands of children from cities on the east coast to the Midwest, is fascinating. It’s one of those instances of social eugenics where no one seems to have thought it all the way through – anyone could adopt a child from the trains (not all of whom were necessarily orphans!), and there was little to no oversight once the adoptions happened. The connections between Niamh’s experience and Molly’s history in the foster system are plain enough, but the author can’t resist dropping a few anvils on the subject just to make sure we get it.
Both Niamh and Molly are interesting characters, but Niamh’s story was the more compelling of the two, and I found myself skimming through Molly’s chapters to get back to Niamh.