Monday, May 06, 2013

Review: Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline
William Morrow Paperbacks
April 2013
Format: Paperback, 288 pages
Source: Publisher/She Reads

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck or chance. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

My thoughts: I recently joined the She Reads Book Club and this is the first month I am participating. One of the reasons that I agreed to be part of this amazing network is that She Reads tends to focus on debut authors and those authors not yet getting the attention they deserve. I am hoping that I will be reading some new-to-me authors as well as some really good books. Well, if the first selection I read for this group is any indication of what I can expect, I will be really pleased I joined.

Orphan Train, the May She Reads book selection, is in a word - riveting! From the very first page, I was hooked and had a really hard time putting this book down. I will admit that I was not that familiar with this part of our history. I vaguely remember reading something about the orphans from New York being sent out west, and so I was excited when I received this book. 

Told from alternating perspectives and moving back and forth from the present to 1930s and 40s, we meet two women who are thrown together and as they learn about each other, find that they have more things in common than they realize. Molly is a young teenager who has been bounced around the foster care system. She has just been caught stealing a copy of Jane Eyre from the library and needs to do community service. Vivian, now in her 90's, has lived a hard life, but a life that she has kept to herself for all these years. She agrees to let Molly do her community service at her house, helping her to clean out all the stuff she has accumulated in her attic. As the two start working together, the memories and stories start flowing.

I loved reading about Vivian's early days - the writing was so vivid and emotional. I was appalled at the conditions that Vivian found herself in as she moved from family to family in Minnesota. Even the train ride from New York to Minnesota was at times heartbreaking as well as heartwarming. 

Just as compelling is Molly's story. We slowly see her grow into her own person as the story progresses. She has definitely not had an easy life so far, but hearing that Vivian's stories of her past makes her realize she is not alone in the world. The bond that grows between these two women is quite remarkable - it's almost as if they are kindred spirits, meant to meet.

This is definitely a book that will stay with you long after you read the last page. It's emotional and heartbreaking. The history is rich in detail and has left me wanting to read more about this time.

The May Book Club Selection from She Reads is Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
and William Morrow publishers are giving away ten copies over on the She Reads website - head over there and leave a comment for your chance to win



  1. Great review of a great book :) I was so glad to learn about this part of American history. In fact, I'd really like to find a nonfiction book about this subject.

    1. Oh...if you do, let me know. I feel as if I've read a book (fictional) or two that touched on this topic, but for the life of me I cannot remember what the book was.

  2. I loved this book as well and couldn't put it down. I listened to the audio version and it was wonderful. I had heard of orphan trains but this novel really portrays the hopelessness of the situation and it was so heartbreaking. Nice review!

  3. I too appreciated the parallels and comparisons between the orphan train and today's foster care program. I also enjoyed the book. Nice review.

  4. This was my first month with SheReads, as well, and I am so glad that I joined! This book was amazing and a perfect initiation!

  5. Yes, this was a riveting read! Great review and welcome to She Reads.

  6. I also really want to find out more about the real life orphan trains! Another blogger said she was going to find a book about them, and someone else told me that their child has one about orphan trains. I just need to get to the library, I guess!

    Here's my review of Orphan Train!

  7. Great review - I just added it to my list!

  8. I first read about orphan trains after reading The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. I've become quite interested in the subject. Once school ends for the summer I plan on spending some time at the library researching the subject.


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