Inside a room drenched with sunlight and scented with the aroma of fresh coffee, the book club is discussing “Orphan Train,” a story about displacement and disruption, about being wrenched from family and suffering through hardship and hunger. A story about being beaten down only to find the strength to get back on your feet.
It is, in many ways, the story of those seated around the table.
The words on the page, passages that describe blackbirds that “pierce the sky like inverse stars” and ghosts “that haunt our most ordinary moments,” carry a resonance here far beyond the author’s meaning.
The book club members are former Star of Hope residents, people who have weathered storms like homelessness, foster care, substance abuse and domestic violence. They connect to the characters: children orphaned by death or neglect, left to scramble on the streets, sent across a continent to work as farm and factory labor.
They understand how it feels to be stripped of identity and shuttled through a maze of misguided bureaucracy.
They lend the weight of their own experiences to key symbols in the novel.
“The way I see the boxes in the attic is that they are an unpacking of her life. We all have things like that,” muses volunteer Stephanie Tsuru, who started the club a year ago. “Maybe we don’t have boxes in our attic, but places in our head where we pack away memories. Basically, this is a symbol of her dealing with all the things that were difficult in her life.”