Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a novel about orphans growing up in 1920 America from the eyes of Niamh (pronounced Neev). Her family emigrated from Ireland to New York and all but Niamh died from a fire. Along with Niamh's story, a present day foster child is having similar issues with abandonment while she helps an elderly woman clear out and organize old trunks in her attic. The orphan trains ran until 1929 from the East Coast to the Midwest, stopping at towns along the way for families to adopt the children. Most of the children were chosen to work in the fields or as help for the mothers rather than someone to be integrated into a family. Here in Fort Worth, one of the stop off points for orphan trains resulted in an orphanage run by Edna Gladney.
The book was chosen by our book club and there are great reading club questions at the end of the book.
Without e-mail or affordable mail, immigrants were cut off from their homeland and often people living in Ireland were given a rosy picture of life in New York. What Niamh's family discovered was too little work, tenement housing and little money to live on. Niamh, at a young age, found that she had no family and no one to take care of her until the Children's Aid Society took her in and put her on one of the orphan trains leaving New York to be placed with families. Not much different from the foster care system we have today. Many of the children found a cruel world where they worked as unpaid servants or laborers and without anyone to care for their well being. Babies seem to have a better chance at finding a loving home. I liked the way the story unfolded through both the search through attic trunks and her story as a young girl and it is a great book for book club discussions