According to the Orphan Train official Website, the trains ran in the United States between 1854 and 1929, placing “an estimated 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children.” Felicia Brennan Kristoffersen, the heroine of Hatcher’s novel, is the middle of three Chicago siblings who were relocated on an orphan train.
The story begins years later after Felicia’s placement parents died, leaving her abandoned since they hadn’t officially adopted her. The parents’ relatives stepped in after the funerals, and Felicia is left to fend for herself. Since she has a teaching certificate she’s never been able to use, she is hired in rural Frenchman’s Bluff, Idaho. The school board is saving money hiring an untried female teacher instead of an experienced man.
Merchant Colin Murphy is adamantly against her hiring since he’s watched a parade of young women come and go, some in less than a semester, as teachers. As a widower with a young daughter, he wants the best education possible for his little girl, and that isn’t going to happen with revolving instructors.
It doesn’t help that Colin will be Felicia’s landlord, the tiny house designated for the teacher being in the mercantile’s backyard. The house is also the one Colin built for his unhappy, now deceased wife.
With her Christian faith as a shield, Felicia steps into this volatile situation, a town divided and a landlord not predisposed to like her. But Felicia and her faith are made of stern stuff. After the rough treatment of the Kristoffersens, she’s upbeat and plucky, ready to take on the world. Fortunately, Colin’s daughter Charity becomes her early champion.
As the head of the school board plots to discredit Felicia, Colin finds himself drawn to the new schoolmarm, who recognizes Charity’s problems with reading and sets up a study program in the evenings to help the child learn. That Felicia is spending time at night in the home of a handsome unmarried man helps the case of the school board president for firing her.
While the main love story and Colin’s change from opponent to proponent of Felicia’s hiring are honest and believable, the fact that most of the citizens go along with the vindictive spirit of the school board president isn’t. When the crisis comes, readers are more apt to roll their eyes than sympathize or empathize with Felicia.
That glitch notwithstanding, Belonging is an enjoyable and entertaining read filled with interesting facts about Idaho and its part in the settling of the West. Hatcher, a Christie Award winner, is an author I look forward to reading in the future.