by Karen Cushman

Much has been written about the orphan trains which operated from 1850 to 1929, but... read more

Much has been written about the orphan trains which operated from 1850 to 1929, but few books offer such a memorable character as 12-year-old Rodzina, the prickly yet vulnerable Polish American heroine of this novel. Stunned and grieving from the recent deaths of her loving parents, Rodzina hides behind a façade of strength and size as she travels on an orphan train from Chicago to San Francisco. Although she’s bigger and older than most of the other orphans aboard the train, Rodzina secretly shares their fears and hopes. And despite her intention to stay emotionally detached, she can’t avoid connecting with the other members of this distinct community of children. As each consecutive train stop is reached, Rodzina becomes increasingly determined to avoid placement in homes where she is certain orphans are valued only as slave labor. Her cynical outlook is sometimes right on target, and only her quick thinking and tenacity prevent her from becoming trapped in some truly grim households, including one where she is expected to step into the role of wife and mother as soon as the gravely ill woman currently in that position expires. As the train winds its way westward with its dwindling population of homeless orphans, Rodzina is ever more intrigued by Lady Doctor, an orphan asylum chaperone. Repelled by the woman’s chilly manner, Rodzina is also fascinated with her professional status. By the journey’s end the two have forged a tentative but promising relationship, and Rodzina has found an unexpected home. (Ages 10–13)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2004

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