I liked this book that parallels the story of a young girl sent west on an orphan train from New York City in 1929 and a present-day Native American teenage girl who has struggled in the modern foster care system. I think Kline does an excellent job showing us how Niamh Power and these destitute orphaned children, both numb and frightened, must have felt as they traveled and met up with their matches, which were often far from perfect. Molly Ayer’s present-day story of a rebellious, Goth girl whose father has died and whose mother is addicted to drugs is somehow less powerful, but provides a necessary structure to the story. Molly meets ninety-one year-old Niamh, now named Vivian, when she is assigned to a community service punishment for stealing a book. The two form a friendship as Molly helps Vivian sort through her attic and together they relive Vivian’s story.
I liked Vivian’s story very much. I think Kline is great when she describes Vivian’s feelings and her desperate situation. It is very easy to imagine these children and their simple desire to live in a home where they are wanted, or at least fed and clothed and treated kindly. It’s somehow both shocking and understood that these orphans don’t always get that.
I did not feel as drawn into Molly’s story. Her character reminds me too much of Velvet Hoon in Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed, and, fair or not, that made her seem less original. I had trouble understanding why stealing a library book would potentially send Molly to “juvie,” but I suppose Kline needed to create this event to get the story rolling.
Molly’s transformation is also somewhat unbelievable and her Google search skills certainly tie up a lot of loose ends. I’m also not sure how it is that Molly is able to buy or get a laptop, given her situation, but it comes in handy for the internet searches. Her quick friendship with Vivian seems a little forced to me as well.
All in all, however, I enjoyed the book. It’s a look into a time that, because of the changes and struggles in those years, is full of stories.
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