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Mercy Train

3.39  ·  Rating Details ·  410 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
A rich, luminous novel of three remarkable women connected across a century by a family secret and by the fierce brilliance of their love.

Samantha’s mother has been dead almost a year when the box arrives on her doorstep. In it, she finds recipe cards, keepsakes, letters—relics of her mother Iris’s past. But as Sam sifts through these family treasures, she uncovers evidenc
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 8th 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2011)
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Diane S ☔
Mar 25, 2012 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
Three generations of mothers and daughter are featured in this novel. Samantha, with a young daughter of her own, is dealing with her own personal crisis, when she is sent a mystery box that contains her grandmothers history. She can use this history and learn from it, gain strength and find a way through her own life. In 1854 through 1929, may children including Samantha's grandmother roamed the streets of New York, forging their own families with other children and trying to survive on their o ...more
May 03, 2012 Debbie rated it really liked it
Samantha finds herself on a precipice, her role as mother has been her end all but now it’s time to return to her work, but her potter’s wheel remains dust covered as she instead breaks open a seal to mementos discovered from her mother who died two years prior. As she goes through the items both foreign and familiar, she finds things from both her mother Iris and her grandmother Violet which opens a new path of discovery for Sam, a discovery of two women who she should have known deeper, a disc ...more
Dec 16, 2016 Carla rated it really liked it
Wonderful generational story of women. Because I've read several books on the orphan trains, I was glad it wasn't all about that again. I note that others perhaps who hadn't read books on the orphan trains, wanted more though!

This is a story more about the grandmother, mother and daughter and the secrets that are/were kept, and how they impacted all of them. Beautifully written book with wonderful character development.

I heard Rae Meadows speak at the Wisconsin Book Festival, and she was a grac
Jul 11, 2015 Lori rated it liked it
I can only give the book "Mercy Train" a three and barely at that. I wanted to read this book because it mentioned that one of the characters Violet rode the orphan train when she was 11 years old in 1900. The parts with Violet were good and interesting. I liked her plot line. Instead it goes between three characters' point of view. Violets, Iris, daughter of Violet, and Samantha daughter of Iris. I was disappointed that Samantha knew almost nothing of her grandmother. and neither Iris or Samant ...more
Karen Batshaw
Dec 04, 2012 Karen Batshaw rated it it was ok
I wanted to know more about the orphan trains . Also wanted to know more about violet when she left the train. Found this book to be disappointing
Sep 11, 2012 Mycah rated it did not like it

The idea for this book is fascinating. I was mislead by the summary, which portrays a story of a young mother sifting through her mother's belongings and discovering a family history no one but her Grandmother knew about. It takes more than 1/2 the book for her to open the box of her Mother's belongings, and the rest of the book too look through them. She finds clues, which are great, but at no point does she actually discover anything about her family. We, as readers, know the backstory, becau
Jun 24, 2012 Beth rated it it was amazing
The book is the story of a woman who was put on a "mercy" or orphan train byt her mother who could not care for her. These trains took poor children from the city and gave them to families in the Midwest. Sometimes this was a success, but not always. The plot deals with Violet, the child put on the train; her daughter Iris, who tries to understand her mother's idiosyncracies; and Samantha, Iris's daughter. Obviously, a story or mothers and daughters and how they relate.

I was only briefly aware
Lisa Forsen
Nov 05, 2012 Lisa Forsen rated it it was ok
Having coincidentally just finished The Chaperone, which happens to be about the same subject matter, I could not help but compare the two. I found this book a bit undeveloped...the characters and story lines for each one just seemed to be lacking. In fact, when I got to the last page, I was left with a sense of "that's it?". It was as if the author was given a word limit and hadn't thought the story out so had to wrap it up in 2 pages. Lots of unanswered questions...
Dec 04, 2012 Debra rated it did not like it
This book seemed incomplete to me...when I reached the end I felt I had only read one fourth of it...there was no tying up of loose ends at closure of the was very poorly written...
Aug 10, 2013 Victoria rated it liked it
This was a good book. I liked it. The blurb is a little misleading as it suggests that it is about a woman who finds a box of family keepsakes after the death of her Mother and that she discovers things about her Mother and her Grandmother that she never knew. The actual story is that a woman, Sam, finds a box of her Mother's keepsakes after her death, but really discovers nothing because she isn't particularly interested in the box, she spends most of the book not really looking in the box, and ...more
May 16, 2012 Robina rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
I picked this up on a whim at the library while my daughter waited (sort of) patiently to pick out her own books. It fit my criteria, which was: it was on a "recommended" shelf face out and looked not horrible. In other words, I didn't have high expectations.

However, while the book did feel somewhat like summertime "fluff" reading, I was pleasantly surprised not only by how enjoyable it was to read but also some of the very interesting questions and historical contexts it raised. I found it over
May 05, 2012 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
It was interesting to learn about the Children's Aid Society and the orphan train movement. The intention to find homes for orphaned or abandoned children seemed noble, but in reality there was no real system for finding safe and/or appropriate homes. There was no record keeping or follow up; these children were truly abandoned again once they were handed over to the society. Fortunately some were lucky enough to find good homes. The four generations of women, up to baby Ella, struggled with kee ...more
Jul 28, 2012 Katie rated it liked it
I picked this book because it was a fictional story about orphan trains and how it shaped families across the country. The story follows Violet on the train, her daughter Iris as she dies from cancer, and Iris' daughter Samantha as she struggles with new motherhood. I found Violet's struggles on the streets of New York City and eventual orphan train experience most interesting, but also Violet's lack of relationship with her own mother trickles down to her daughter and granddaughter, as they all ...more
Elizabeth Moeller
May 21, 2012 Elizabeth Moeller rated it liked it
I enjoyed this interwoven tale about three generations of one family. The oldest generation, Violet, was taken from Kentucky to NYC as a child with her barely capable mother. Violet's mother ended up giving her to a child welfare group that put children on trains bound for the west so they could have a better life. Violet's daughter, Iris, grew up as a model suburban wife and mother in the midwestern suburbs with no idea of her mother's past. Violet's granddaughter, Sam, discovers her grandmothe ...more
May 07, 2012 Janell rated it it was amazing
I throughly enjoyed this book written by Rae Meadows. I expected it's main focus to be centered on the orphan trains and the children whose lives were changed by them. However, I feel the main theme evolves around human relationships between generations .. and then the events, such as the orphan train, that helped mold their lives. The lives of several characters are profiled over a span of years. To my pleasure, I was surprised by some of the twists and turns – Meadows weaves a very emotionally ...more
Linda Marie Marsh
Jun 10, 2016 Linda Marie Marsh rated it really liked it
Look up the word 'mercy' in the dictionary and you will see it being described as " compassion shown to enemies or offenders in one's power" If that is how you, the reader feels, than these trains of children were truly MERCY TRAINS...why? Because they weren't necessarily orphans,but they were offensive perhaps due to the fact that most were street kids. Scrappy, dirty, hungry and tough , some with parents who were just too overwhelmed to care..... City kids sent to 'better lives' in the midwes ...more
Aug 18, 2012 Vickie rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this read. The lives of all of these women were hard and I think in part due to the mysteries that surrounded their mothers. Violet was my favorite character, I think, because she was a survivor. She didn't look back after leaving New York and lived her life dealing with 3 miscarriages, and married to a man who wasn't the love of her life, but became her friend. When her husband had passed and her daughter was married and settled down, she stayed on the farm and just enjoyed the ...more
Jan 09, 2016 Mary rated it liked it
I enjoyed the book but I couldn't give it more than 3 stars. It moves back and forth between the three characters, Sam, Iris, and Violet. Sam I found boring and peculiar, Iris saddened me because of her circumstances and then there was Violet. Violet is the hit of the whole novel. The glue that keeps the book interesting. Honestly the whole book should have been about her and delved further into her story. Sam and Iris are just hindrances in this tale. I understand what the author was trying to ...more
Jul 08, 2012 Christine rated it liked it
This book was enjoyable because it told the story of three generations of women. They each had their secrets that the other didn't know. I think that it is interesting how life events of one effects the other. I wish that some of the secrets could have been found out by the others. It would have somehow given me some satisfaction to have had the daughter or granddaughter learn more about their mother or grandmother. Secrets, for the most part, stay hidden. That left me a little dissatisfied. Als ...more
Sep 08, 2012 Laura rated it liked it
I'm not even sure I had ever heard of orphan trains before I read this book!

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, trains took over 150,000 orphaned, neglected, or homeless children from New York City west to Christian families willing to take these children in. Some faired better than others, of course.

This story is a multigenerational tale with three stories in one. It's about Violet and her trip on the orphan train, about Iris dying of cancer, and about Samantha, a new mother struggling with th
(Lonestarlibrarian) Keddy Ann Outlaw
I picked this up to read on the plane, and found it entertaining. I am always interested in any fiction involving the Orphan Trains. Three generations of women are introduced here, the first one being the young girl, Violet, whose mother is an opium addict and sends her away on the Orphan Train. We the readers know that, but the next two generations of women in the family will have to find that out: Violet's daughter, Iris, a divorcee who is oddly at peace though dying of cancer, and her daugher ...more
I am not sure what to write or how to explain this book yet.

The parts I know are:
I enjoyed the book once I got through the first four chapters, then I had enough context to piece the story together.
I had heard of the orphan trains, but had not spent a lot of time thinking about them and the horrors that could occur.
I continued to be amazed at the resilience of people when put in difficult positions.
When push comes to shove - very few people find peace and contentment...and perhaps that is one
Amber Balash
May 01, 2012 Amber Balash rated it liked it
I read this for a book group. There's definitely a lot to talk about, especially in terms of motherhood, marriage, sense of self, generational issues, and more.
The author was certainly from a different worldview than I, but I appreciated her honesty. I can especially relate to the youngest mom and her questions of a creative career. I look forward to hearing others' points of view as we discuss it.
The "Orphan train" story line was especially fascinating, and is what may draw readers in who are
Feb 09, 2013 Evi rated it really liked it
This was a quick read and I enjoyed it very much. The story moves back and forth between the lives of four women (Lilibet, Violet, Iris and Samantha). It's a lovely story of mothers and daughters and how they relate to each other.

The book follows Violet, whose destitute, opium addicted mother sends her away on an orphan train around the turn of the century. Many years later, her granddaughter delves into an old wooden box full of Violet's recipes, keepsakes, and letters ... and uncovers the past
Jan 21, 2014 Becky rated it it was ok
This book could have been so much better. There was no resolution at the end. Did Sam make peace with her mother's death? Did she ever go back to pottery? Did she resolve things with her Dad? Her brother? Did Violet find happiness? It seemed like Iris was the only character that really got closure. I would have loved to read more about Violet's life in New York. Good book but could have used about 100 more pages.
Mar 27, 2013 Marty rated it really liked it
An interestingly constructed novel about three generations of women. Sam just had a baby and is trying to deal with not losing herself and her previous interests now that she is a mother. Her mother, Iris, is dying of cancer. Iris's mother, Violet, was 11 when she left New York City on the "mercy train", which took orphans to states like Wisconsin and Illinois to find new families. The book had alternating chapters about each of the three women. It was a study of motherhood.
Sep 07, 2012 Lynn rated it it was ok
The title and the cover picture of this book would lead a reader to believe that this was a book about the Orphan Trains of the 19th century in America. In fact, it is the story of 3 generations of women in a family, and their relationships with each other. The fact that the grandmother was, in fact, abandoned by her mother in the slums of New York City and sent by train to find a new life, isn't really revealed until the last chapter.
Aug 12, 2012 Eileen rated it liked it
This book tracks three generation of women and does a fantastic job of weaving in and out through times within each of their stories. True storytelling. I didn't like the character of Sammy. What I enjoyed was the story of her mother Iris and the education I received about the "Orphan Trains" that took underpriviliged children from NYC and sent them to the Mid-West to be adopted, or in many cases indentured. Definitely worth reading
May 19, 2012 Lynn rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-home
It took me a long time to finish this book (2 months), but it was worth the persistence. The stories of three different generations don't directly relate to one another until about halfway through, and I found the beginning of the book very confusing. However, once the lives of the characters were intertwined, it became a powerful story of three women deeply connected. I can see myself reading this one again and being moved even more the second time around.
Jan 14, 2017 Colette rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017
I love books with multiple points of view and I love books with historical elements. This book fit those two categories. However, I felt it was lacking. The author included too many irrelevant details, especially about the main character (Sam). The three characters weren't tied together well enough, and the "secret" alluded to in the description wan't a good connection between the three characters. Also, I found each of the characters rather petty. In the end, I wanted more substance.
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Rae Meadows is the author of Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction, No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel, and most recently the widely praised novel, Mercy Train (in hardcover as Mothers and Daughters). Her fourth novel, I Will Send Rain, is forthcoming August 2016 from Henry Holt. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
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