Review: Orphan Train

Title: Orphan Train Image

Author: Christina Baker Kline

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from “aging out” of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Review: Did you know that in the 1920s the United States had a program that shipped orphan children out of cities such as New York City to the country? It was the hope that these orphan trains would deliver orphans to a better life with families that wanted them or could use their services. In the case of our main character, Vivian, however, the promise of the orphan train is not received until many years later in her life. As an Irish immigrant in New York City she is uprooted to Minnesota to constantly persevere in the face of strong adversity. The families that take her in are not kind to her; she is forced to be involved in numerous circumstances that deny her a childhood, break her, and leave her numb to emotions and her place in the world. Similarly, the other main character of this story, Molly, is a foster child in the year 2011. When Molly encounters trouble and must do fifty hours of community service with Vivian, she learns of the elderly woman’s past and the similarities of they lives they have lived as children in “the system.”

This book packs an emotional punch to the reader. Both women in the story have had to overcome so much and the truths of their pasts were not easy to read. It is upsetting to know how children without homes were treated back then and are still treated now. It was heartbreaking to have to experience with Vivian disappointment over and over again. At one point you come to wonder if she is ever meant to experience happiness at all. For the sake of learning an unknown part of our nation’s history I would recommend this book to many people. The characters all draw you in, whether it is to disgust you or to endear to you. The heart that beats throughout this story continues until the very last page. This is a very good book.


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