A trouble-making teenage girl who frequently moves around the foster care system crosses paths with a wealthy, elderly widow because of a community service assignment. Pessimistic and unenthused, teenage Molly discovers she has more in common with ninety-some year old Vivian than she ever thought possible. Orphan Train is a back and forth story of Vivian and Molly’s present-day interaction and Vivian’s childhood during the 1920s as a “train rider,” Irish orphan and her journey to find love, security and acceptance. Her story sheds light on a forgotten chapter of American History, as the “orphan train” experience was a common and shared experience among many orphan immigrants. As Vivian and Molly grow, they share their insights and growing perspectives. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
“In portaging from one river to another, Wabanakis had to carry their canoes and all other possessions. Everyone knew the value of traveling light and understood that it required leaving some things behind. Nothing encumbered movement more than fear, which was often the most difficult burden to surrender”
“I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is— a place in memory of others where our best selves live on.”
“You can put up with it,” the boy says, “Or you can run away. Or maybe you’ll get lucky and live happily ever after. Only the good Lord knows what’s going to happen and he ain’t telling.”
“Flappers are big-city girls who cut their hair short and go dancing and do what they please.” She gives me a friendly smile. “Who knows, Dorothy? Maybe that’s what you’ll become. ”
“Test your limits. Learn what you can endure.”
“After a while you don’t know what your own needs are anymore. You’re grateful for the slightest hint of kindness, and then, as you get older, suspicious. Why would anyone do anything for you without expecting something in return? And anyway— most of the time they don’t. More often than not, you see the worst in people. You learn that most adults lie. That most people only look out for themselves. That you are only as interesting as you are useful to someone.
And so your personality is shaped. You know too much, and this knowledge makes you wary. You grow fearful and mistrustful. The expression of emotion does not come naturally, so you learn to fake it. To pretend. To display an empathy you don’t actually feel. And so it is that you learn how to pass, if you’re lucky, to look like everyone else, even though you are broken inside.”
“Time constricts and flattens, you know. It’s not evenly weighed. Certain moments linger in the mind and others disappear. The first twenty-three years of my life are the ones that shaped me, and the fact that I’ve lived almost seven decades since then is irrelevant.
“…people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. They’re with us in the grocery store, as we turn a corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.”
“Its marvelous to be young on a big-city street.”
“My entire life has felt like a chance. Random moments of loss and connection. This is the first one that feels, instead, like fate.”
“So is it just human nature to believe that things happen for a reason— to find some shred of meaning even in the worst experiences?”
“…love, loyalty, friendship— a never-ending path that leads away from home and circles back.”