Running from some of the larger cities in the US like New York and Boston, from the years of 1853 to 1929, these trains would transport homeless and parentless children across the Midwest in search of foster homes. The children would be lined up at each stop and interested families would select one and agree to care for the child and send them to school. Unfortunately, there wasn't much follow up and often these children would end up in worse situations than they started. After reading "The Chaperone", I had to do a little Googling (sign of a good book) and the faces of these little children who were hoping for a new life just broke my heart. I was elated when I learned I would be reading more about this topic.
|Orphans delivered to Bowling Green with their chaperones|
Synopsis: Our modern day story introduces us to Molly Ayer, a Penobscot Indian and a 17 year-old girl in the foster care system. She has had a rough life, and it hasn't gotten any easier with her foster care family, who seem to only want her around for the government allowance. Molly is caught trying to steal a book (Jane Eyre) from a local library, and must serve community service hours as a punishment. Through Molly's boyfriend, she finds a wealthy elderly lady named Vivian who needs help cleaning her attic, and Molly soon finds common ground with her.
As Molly helps Vivian sort through her possessions, she learns that Vivian was an Irish immigrant and orphaned in New York City in 1929 at the age of 9. She is placed on an orphan train, eventually is chosen by a couple with ulterior motives, and with the stock market crash, things go from bad to worse. Vivian begins to question if this is better than being homeless? Molly hears the story of her journey...the deplorable conditions, the abuse, the unforgiving Minnesota winters, but also the kindness of strangers, the fierce determination to survive, and the endurance of friendship. As Molly and Vivian grow closer, Molly begins to see a way that she can help her new mentor get answers that will put her mind at ease and vanquish some of the ghosts that have haunted her for decades.
My thoughts: Overall, I loved this book and found it very easy to prioritize time to read it (in fact it took only days). Often I struggle with a book that goes back and forth in time...I usually prefer one story line to another. But I was equally interested in both. Molly was obviously troubled and prickly, but I totally understood where she was coming from and for crying out loud, how can I not love a girl that wanted to steal Jane Eyre???? (She even tried to take the most tattered of the three copies.) I could immediately see the good in her, and was warmed by the image of her growing close to this much older lady who had walked in her shoes. I did think that this portion of the story was underdeveloped though, and fell into place a little too smoothly.
The sections that talked about Vivian's history was absolutely riveting and was much more developed. Oh Lord, the squalor and the mistreatment of this child...it sickened me. But I equally was warmed by those that reached out to her and ultimately gave her a good life, and found Vivian's spirit to be inspiring and hopeful. It seems like in every book I read, there has to be tragedy and death and sorrow, and there is plenty in this book, but I turned the last page with a light heart.
As most of you know, I tend to stay away from long books, but this is one of those times when I think it could have used another hundred pages. The history and the material is rich, and I was left wanting more.
4 out of 5 stars