Friday, November 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Our historical fiction/history book group has been on a bit of a hiatus. We’ve been having trouble finding a time when we all could meet. But we’re finally getting together this weekend to discuss Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

This book is set both in current day Maine and in the late 1800's-early 1900's in the Midwest, telling the story of two orphans in the foster care systems of their times.

Molly is a 17-year-old modern day troubled teenager who is about to be kicked out of yet another foster care home. This one she had settled into fairly well, but made the mistake of trying to steal a library book. Her one last chance is to perform community service, cleaning out the attic of an elderly woman, Vivian Daly.

Vivian, as it turns out, is a survivor of a different type of foster care experiment–the orphan trains. Orphans were scooped up from the dense, crime-ridden Eastern cities, put onto trains, and transported to the Midwest where they were offered up for adoption to farmers or townspeople. While babies or toddlers might find loving homes, the older children and teens were often times treated as free labor. Vivian, a red-headed nine-year-old, faced hardship, rejection, abuse, and uncertainty.

As Molly and Vivian’s stories unfold together, a friendship develops, beneficial to them both.

This is a lovely story. It brings to light a fascinating part of the nation’s history that hasn’t received a lot of attention, and highlights some of the ongoing difficulties with foster care. While there aren’t a lot of surprises in the narrative, it’s an interesting read. The book, originally issued as a paperback, has been re-released in hardcover–so it’s doing very well–and for good reason. I expect we’ll have a wonderful discussion at book group!


  1. Would love to hear your group's impressions of Orphan Train. I am currently listening to the audiobook version. Good so far.

  2. I really loved this book, but I was disappointed by the abrupt ending. There were too many unanswered questions in regards to Molly.

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