How did the first Book Flight reading challenge work for you? Did you read the main title or one of the alternates? Or did you find something else that might fit into this month’s theme of belonging, connection and found family?
I read the main title, The Orphan Train by Christina Kline and enjoyed a look into this unique time in our history when children that had been orphaned or abandoned were sent west by train where they would (hopefully) be taken in by foster families. The intention was good – saving children from a grim existence in crowded conditions in the cities to the clean, open air of the country – but the results were not always positive. Many children were seen as free labor to work in the fields or as servants in the house, and were mistreated and abused. Many were separated from siblings and friends, and forced to enter a new, unknown life alone.
The Orphan Train is the story of one of these orphans, Vivian Daly. She has recently immigrated from Ireland with her parents and sister, but her parents have died and her sister is lost after a fire in their tenement. At 10 years old, she is placed on an “orphan train”, leaving New York City for Minnesota and an uncertain future. There she suffers hardships, but also eventually finds her place in the world.
I was struck by Vivian’s courage as she is forced to leave everything she knows at such a young age. Watching her struggle with and overcome horrible situations can be heartbreaking. Vivian’s reaction is to carefully build walls around her heart. Eventually she is able to carve out a happy life, although it may not have been the life she once wished for.
In comparing this title to the others in this month’s Book Flight (Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman), all of the main characters are alone and struggling to find their way, and in each, in one way or another, they find people and reasons to live. If you’ve read any of the books, how did you feel about the main character’s coping mechanism? Did they isolate and protect themselves, or did they reach out – however reluctantly – to others? How did their experiences influence how they treated others? How did they move beyond past traumas, or did those memories haunt them? In The Orphan Train, Vivian calls them “ghosts”. Did the characters use past memories as comfort, or as motivation to move on? In each of these titles, there is a strong theme of reaching out to others and connection, but there is also a common thread of being forced to leave something beloved behind. This letting go can be wrenching – how did the characters cope – or not cope – with these losses?
Be sure to leave any thoughts you have about this month’s reading in the comments!