Christina Kline’s novel is an uplifting story of a 91-year-old woman, Vivian, and a troubled teenager, Molly, who discover that despite the difference in their ages, they have much in common.
Vivian Daly was sent on an orphan train from New York to Minnesota in the early 1900s after she had lost all of her family in a fire. Molly has been in the foster care system in Maine because her father died when she was eight and her mother went into a downward spiral that she never recovered from. Molly has been in and out of foster homes, and her latest foster home, with Ralph and Dina, is not that loving. While under their care, she is caught stealing a book from the school library and is given the choice of doing community service hours or going to juvenile detention. Molly does have one close friend — her boyfriend, Jack. But Molly never quite trusts their relationship and figures that sooner or later, he will decide that she is too much trouble. Jack has arranged for Molly to meet Vivian, an elderly woman who lives alone in a huge house and who needs help organizing her attic. While the two of them work in the attic, Vivian tells Molly her own story and helps the younger girl realize that she is not alone
Vivian senses a kindred spirit in Molly because she, too, was orphaned when she was 8. In 1929, after a fire in slum housing that killed her parents and three siblings, Vivian’s neighbor took her to the Children’s Aid Society. Vivian’s real name is Niamh Power, and her family had just emigrated from Ireland. Vivian is put on a train along with 19 other orphans accompanied by two sponsors. On the train, Vivian meets Dutchy, a rough and tumble boy who tells her she has two choices now - put up with the family she is placed with or run away. Dutchy and Vivian make a pact to search for one another when they are older.
In Minneapolis, Dutchy gets picked at the train depot by a family that needs a farm hand. Vivian is later picked in Alban, Minn., by the Byrnes, who wanted a child who can sew. Vivian is nothing more than a slave laborer, and her hope of being in a loving family is ruined. Her name is changed to Dorothy and she sleeps in the hallway. She sews most of the day. Dorothy wants to go to school, but he new parents wouldn’t let her.
Her new family hires other girls and women to sew for them also and pays by the piece. Dorothy is not paid, but some of the women who work for the Byrnes act as her family. After about a year, Dorothy notices that none of the girls is getting as much sewing work as before. She doesn’t’ know it, but the Byrnes, who are no longer making much money, want to unload her. Then Mr. Sorenson, a representative of the Children’s Aid Society, comes to visit and says that a couple nearby on a farm, the Grotes, have requested a child to help out
Life with the Grote family is even worse than life with the Byrnes. The family lives in a wooden shack. They want Dorothy to help out with the baby because Mrs. Grote is expecting. They already have four children who are undernourished and neglected. Mr. Grote does allow Dorothy to go to school. She establishes a good relationship with her teacher, who suspects that not is well at the Grotes’ house.
One day, her teacher comes to her aide and helps to turns Dorothy’s life around.
As Molly and Vivian sort through Vivian’s memories in the attic, they realize how much alike they are. Molly hadn’t looked forward to the task of helping Vivian, but she recognizes it is a blessing, and she and Vivian become dear friends.
The author, Christina Kline, has written four previous novels. She was born in England, raised in Maine and now lives in New York.
Maggie Braun is a special education teacher at Manhattan High School.