Orphan Train

Orphan Train

by Christina Baker Kline

Overview: 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 pure luck. 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.

Judy Stanton (06/14/15): I love reading well researched historical fiction, and Christina Baker Kline did her homework on Orphan Train. Just learning about the train was interesting, but sharing the first person experience with a young girl crossing the country to be placed in difficult circumstances, with little or no support or supervision from the agency that placed her, was heart wrenching. But Kline went one step further. Have we come a long way since Orphan Train? As she juxtaposes the story with a young lady living in modern times who has been placed in a number of foster homes, the reader comes to understand that there are still challenges in placing children in true, loving environments, where they are treated as well as biological children. It is haunting to get inside the heads of children who are orphaned or foster children, to feel their need to be accepted as they are, to be loved, and to build a meaningful life. Well developed characters, alternating perspectives, and descriptive writing keeps the reader engaged right to the end. Great read.
Rating: *****

Debbie Weiss (05/14/15): I really loved this book. Molly is a teenager in the foster care system and she is not coping well at all. As punishment for stealing a book from the neighborhood library, she must perform a certain number of hours of community service. She decides to help an elderly lady named Vivian go through boxes stored in the attic of her spacious house to "pay off" her time. This community service becomes a life altering experience for her. By listening to all the stories behind the paraphernalia in the boxes in the attic, she learns about Vivian's childhood, a product of an orphan train heading west from New York. The young girl and the elderly lady bond over their common experiences and they help each other to heal and to move on with their lives. I loved both characters!
Rating: *****

Gail Reid (04/23/15): I enjoyed the Orphan Train very much because, once again, a piece of history that I knew nothing about is brought to light within an engaging fictional framework. Contrasting the 1920's "orphan train" which transported thousands of orphans from New York - many right off the boat - to the midwest in search of new families with a modern-day story of a native American teenager in the foster care system, the author introduces us to a shameful piece of history. Most of the orphans were placed in homes seeking free labor or with people uninterested in and unfit for parenting. The protagonist, born Niamh but name-changed to Dorothy and subsequently Vivian rises above her situation through hard work, education and ultimately a generous and supportive family. When the teen Molly meets Vivian at age 90+ and learns about her past by going through her boxed-up possessions, she uses these life lessons in her history project. More importantly, Molly gains a new perspective on her own situation and is encouraged to move forward toward a future in college, when she ages out of foster care.
Rating: ****

Carol Sherman (04/21/14): Like the previous reviewer of this book I had no knowledge of orphan trains. I really enjoyed the book and the history it revealed. It prompted me to get a DVD from the library of a PBS 60 minute special on the history of orphan trains in the US and interviews with some of those folks still living who were part of this history. Well worth the read. I give it a 4-5. I thought that by the end all the stories were completed enough to let my imagination finish how they may have ended.
Rating: ****

Dale Israel (05/22/13): I guess you learn something new everyday. Little did I know that in the 1920's orphan children in New York were sent by train to Minnesota where they were adopted. Unfortunately, they were used as free labor and grossly mistreated. Orphan Train is a fictionalized account of this time in history. The novel alternates between two stories: Vivian, a 91 year old woman who is looking back on her life as an immigrant from Ireland and an orphan train rider, and Molly, an 18 year old girl living in 2011who has been bounced around the foster care system. I found Vivian's story very interesting and compelling; Molly's story was just okay. The book as a whole was enlightening and it was a quick read. I'm glad I read this novel. My only complaint, and it's a big one, is the ending. I was reading along, enjoying the novel when all of a sudden ... Pow! ....the book was over! I couldn't believe it! It was so unsatisfying. I wondered if the publisher had given the author a page limitation and she suddenly realized she had reached it. Because of the ending, I would give it a 3.5 rating -- otherwise I would give it a 4.
Rating: ***+

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