Searching for You (Orphan Train)
After she witnesses two murders, Sophie Neumann, the focus of Jody Hedlund’s big-hearted and generous Searching for You, flees the rough streets of 1850s New York City to seek refuge out west. Because she has two abandoned children along with her, her plans are derailed, and she settles down among the farm people of northern Illinois.
The spirited Sophie is an orphan, and Hedlund has a lot to say about how that era regarded children, particularly girls, often without affection. Absent of marriage or the keep of a family, the prospects for poor young women in the new country were not good. They were often prey to violent or lascivious men, and when they ran out of legitimate options for survival, many turned to prostitution. The best most of these girls could hope for was domestic work.
The Midwest presents its own set of challenges for Sophie, who brings a checkered past and a few secrets with her. She finds a home with the Duffs, a kindly couple with five boys. But the Duffs cannot accommodate the two children, Olivia and Nicholas, in Sophie’s care. Through the Children’s Aid Society, the children are placed with the severe Mr. Ramsey, a farmer who, like many people of that time, considers orphans no more than chattel. Daily life on the farm is illustrated by a lot of “ing” verbs—washing, scrubbing, and digging. When Sophie learns of the mistreatment the children must endure, her mission becomes how to rescue them and provide a home for all of them.
Because Searching for You is aimed at a Christian audience, the story includes moments when Sophie wonders if the bad luck she’s had in life is God punishing her for her sins. But Hedlund allows her characters ample opportunity for redemption, sometimes through their deeds, sometimes through other characters.