Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011 - Union Station, Chicago, 1929 Summary

Molly Ayer has been in foster homes since she was nine years old, at seventeen she is living with Ralph and Dina. They are just the latest set of foster parents she has been placed with and her foster mother, Dina, is not at all happy with the situation. Molly, who has taken on a Goth persona to hide behind, has been caught stealing a book from the Spruce Harbor Library. This action has only confirmed Dina's assessment of the girl as a trouble maker. Ralph has faith that he can reach Molly and make a difference in her life.

A young man Molly has met in school, named Jack, is actually the person who is making the most difference in her life. As unfathomable as it is to Molly, Jack actually likes her for herself. She has never experienced this level of trust and affection since being placed in foster care. He is now her boyfriend and wants to help her.

Molly has been sentenced to fifty hours of community service for her crime of stealing a copy of Jane Eyre. Dina does not want Molly to live in her house anymore because she feels the child will only cause more stress for herself and Ralph. Dina thinks that Molly will only end up in Juvenile Hall for her crime, but instead Jack solves Molly's problem of where to complete her community service. Jack's mother works for a 92 year old woman named Vivian Daly who needs her attic cleaned and organized; she has agreed to meet Molly and see if she is suitable for the job. Mrs. Daly thinks Molly needs the community service hours for a school project since no one has told her about Molly's criminal act.

Molly and Mrs. Daly meet and find that they share a common bond, which is both of them are orphans. Molly is an orphan because her father is dead and her mother is in jail; Vivian is an orphan because her family died in a fire in 1929. The book looks at both stories by having chapters that are in Mrs. Daly's past and chapters from Molly's present.

Vivian's real name was Niamh Power. She and her family immigrated to New York from Ireland seeking a better life. Her mother, after the birth of her fifth child, became very ill and could not always take care of her children. For this reason Niamh was put in charge of the household. Her father worked in a bar as a dishwasher, but the largest stress on the family was his drinking problem. Everyone in the family had hoped he would reform his drinking ways once they reached America. That was not in the cards, instead he spent a lot of the money the family needed on liquor. One night the apartment caught on fire causing the deaths of everyone in the family except Niamh.

She was taken in by the German couple who lived next door, but because she was Irish, the wife did not want to keep her in her home. They decided the best thing for Niamh would be to take her to the Children's Aid Society. They thought the people there would care for Niamh and be kind to her. Instead, it was a place where she was treated with contempt, because of the prejudice many people felt for the Irish people. She had red hair, freckles, a name they could not pronounce, and an Irish accent which added up as strikes against her. The common procedure during this time was to take the children who were not adopted in New York and put them on a train. It was called the Orphan Train, and took the children into the Midwest to be given to families in exchange for the free labor the children would provide. The infants would of course have an easier time as they would become actual members of the adoptive families, but the older children would be seen as farm hands.

Niamh was told that in all likelihood her name would be changed. She was put on the train with the rest of the children and given a list of rules to follow. Basically the children were to be on their best behavior and cause their chaperones, Mrs. Scatcherd and Mr. Curran, no trouble. Niamh is given an eighteen month old little boy to take care of for the train ride. The children are told they are on a trip that will change their lives from the depravity they used to live in. These children are basically told that they are the underbelly of society and through the generosity of the Children's Aid Society they are being given a chance at a new start.

Niamh runs into trouble when a boy called Dutchy is assigned to sit with her and the little boy. Dutchy is a teenager who had been living on the street after escaping from his abusive father. He is not a fan of rules or chaperones, which causes him trouble. He also causes trouble for Niamh in Chicago because he has her follow him into Union Station. This is after the children had been expressly told to stay on the station platform while they await the arrival of the next train they are to ride. Niamh takes the baby with her into Union Station, and the three of them enjoy a moment of freedom before being caught. Dutchy ends up getting his knuckles rapped as punishment and Niamh is told not to speak to Dutchy for the rest of the ride. This section of the book acquaints us with Molly and her story and gives us insight into the way she behaves. It also lets us see how Vivian has experienced a similar life and how hard her life was for her as an orphan in 1929.

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