When the O’Rourkes were kicked out of their New York City tenement apartment, 11-year-old Deirdre was sure their mother would find a way to keep them together. Instead, she put Deirdre and her brothers on an orphan train to be adopted by families out west. That was bad enough. But then Deirdre is separated from her siblings and taken in by a coldhearted minister and his wife. Desperate to find her brothers, Deirdre begs a passing vaudeville troupe to let her join their act. When Deirdre steps on board their midnight train, she has no idea just how far she’ll go in search of her family–or how much she’ll learn along the way.
Erika Tamar’s rich historical novel is filled with a memorable cast of characters, and at center stage is a young girl who is determined to find love and acceptance on her own terms.
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.12(w) x 7.64(h) x 0.51(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
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Read an Excerpt
Deirdre moved like a sleepwalker, as hollow as if someone had scooped out the inside of her heart. Grand Central Terminal was so big. Track numbers and gates, and stairs to go down. People going every which way. She walked close to her older brother, Sean, so close that sometimes she bumped him. She felt small and lost, and she clutched her little brother Jimmy's hand too hard as the agent hurried them along with the group. Jimmy squirmed and whimpered, so she loosened her grip. Her other hand held tight around the handle of the small cardboard suitcase. O'Rourke, Deirdre was printed on its side in black crayon. Cardboard tags hung over their chests: Deirdre O'Rourke, Age 11. Sean O'Rourke, Age 13. James O'Rourke, Age 3.
There were eighty other kids with them--little ones like Jimmy, others bigger than Sean, all of them in fresh-starched clothes, all of them carrying cardboard suitcases with their names in black crayon. Some of the kids were unruly and noisy. A quiet group walked automatically in double file; the girls wore the same navy pinafores, the boys had the same blue shirts. They had to be from the orphanage, Deirdre thought. And for a moment she was grateful the new dress she'd been given was different, with brown and white checks.
Before yesterday, she'd never even heard of the Children's Aid Society; she hadn't known anything about trains taking city kids to someplace far away. Not until Mum had handed each of them a suitcase from Children's Aid. Yesterday. August 23, 1927. At least the date was something real to hold on to.
A loudspeaker blared. "Track Four. Washington... Richmond..."
Mum had to have planned this way beforeyesterday. When? Why?
The loudspeaker voice echoed in Deirdre's mind. "Richmond...Richmond..."
Deirdre pulled Jimmy along and looked up at Sean. "Did you know?" She swallowed the sudden thickness in her throat. "Did Mum tell you ahead of time?"
"No." Sean's lips were set in such a tight line that there was a circle of white around them.
"Last night--you should've stopped her--"
Sean was Mum's favorite; he always got into lots of scrapes, but no matter how good Deirdre behaved, Sean was still her favorite. He could have--
"She had it all set," he said. "All your hollering and crying didn't change anything. You were just making her feel worse."
Making Mum feel worse! When had Sean said that before?--something like that, long ago. She could almost remember...
It was all she could do to make Jimmy keep up. He was only three; he couldn't walk that fast. Anyway, he wasn't used to wearing shoes.
A gate. A sign: track 9. Jimmy held on to the banister; he was slow on the stairs. The platform was dimly lit. Everything was gray. A train with a long line of cars stretched as far as Deirdre could see. There was smoke rising, and hissing and rumbling.
"Here we are," the lady agent said.
Deirdre hadn't known the word agent before. Mum explained, "They're the ones from Children's Aid taking care of you while you're traveling. So you see, it'll be fine." As if anything could be fine again!
The lady agent had come for them early that morning; she found them in front of the building on Division Street. She had bobbed hair and wore a cloche. Deirdre could tell she was the uptown kind.
When the lady came to get them, all Mum had said was, "Remember to say your prayers." She'd wiped a smudge from Deirdre's cheek. "Be good."
"No! No, Mum, I don't want--"
"Sure it's grand and glorious places you'll go, all the way west." Mum had put on a pretend smile, but her voice was a whisper. Deirdre could hardly hear her over the rumble of an ice truck driving by.
The lady had glanced at their blanket spread out on the sidewalk and quickly looked away. The lady knew they were living out on the street, 'cause that's where she came to get them, Deirdre thought. So why did she have to look so embarrassed and shame them?
Mum had handed Sean an envelope. "Here's the address I'll be at. Send me a word about how you're doing." Sean had nodded and tucked the envelope deep inside the pocket of his knickers.
If Mum had an address, she'd found someplace to live. So why was she sending them away? She didn't love them at all, not at all, none of them, not even Sean.
When it was time for them to go, Mum had abruptly turned. She walked stiff-legged and fast down the street, with her arms wrapped tight around her body. Deirdre watched her back until she disappeared into the crowd on the corner.
No good-bye, no hug, nothing.
At Children's Aid, Jimmy and Sean were led away with some other boys, and Deirdre had yelled and struggled until the agents promised it was just for the bath. That whole morning was a blur. Getting scrubbed in a real bathtub, the lady combing her hair, the smell of disinfectant, a brand-new dress and one extra to keep in the suitcase. When she was reunited with Sean, he suddenly looked thin and gangly, his collarbones sticking out from a too-big white shirt.
The kids on the station platform were all over the place, waiting, restless. Deirdre let herself be jostled. She held the handle of the suitcase tight; her nails dug into her palm.
There was someone's father--he looked like an old rummy, red nose like the men at Gallagher's. He was crying, and a little boy was hanging on to his leg.
Mum could have come.
Except for the rummy, there were no other parents. 'Cause these kids are orphans, Deirdre thought. Not like us. This was the orphans' train. It wasn't right!
The doors opened with a whoosh. The agents herded them onto the train. Deirdre was pushed along with the flow.
"Wait!" Sean stopped short beside her. "I lost it!"
"I forgot, the hole in my pocket!" Sean snaked through the rush of kids getting on. "I lost it!"
Deirdre, hanging on to Jimmy, frantically struggled to follow him. She couldn't let Sean out of her sight!
"What's the problem here?" an agent asked.
"I gotta go back and find it," Sean said. "I lost my mum's address!"
"That's okay," the man agent said. "You won't need it where you're going."
Sean made a move to shove the man out of his way.
The agent grabbed Sean's arms and held them down. "Easy, now," he said.
The hopelessness of finding one little scrap of envelope somewhere in the city washed over Sean's face. He let the agent lead them back.
They boarded the train.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Every problem Deirdre faces crates a new plot and that's what I love. Deirdre faces many problems and being sent on the orphan train is one of them! Perfect for all ages. A tale with sad, happy, and parts that you just cant describe.