Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train was a book that kept me riveted from the beginning to end. The story seamlessly connected two lives that on the surface couldn’t be more different. Vivian is a 91-year old widow living in a mansion in Maine. Molly is a 17-year old foster child that has placed in several different bad homes and has a current problem with the law. In order to not go to juvenile detention, Molly finds a volunteer project, cleaning out Vivian’s attic. As Molly starts to sort through Vivian’s items with the elder lady’s help, the two discover they have a lot in common. And Molly begins to realize that Vivian is going through her items more as a way to look at them all and remember one last time rather than to actually clean them out.

The novel switches between two perspectives, the future through Molly’s perspective, and the past through Vivian’s. I found Molly’s story as a Foster child growing up bouncing between families to be touching and interesting, but I was mostly riveted by Vivian’s story. Vivian was a young Irish immigrant to the United States with her family in the 1920’s. After a devastating fire, she is sent on an “orphan train” from New York City to Minnesota. What she finds upon reaching Minnesota is that often people adopted children from the orphan trains as more indentured servants than as children to love. Vivian finds herself in rather dire situations that were very true to life at the time.

I did not know anything about the orphan trains until I read The Chaperone last year and was also riveted by the orphan train subplot of that novel. It is sad that many of the children were stigmatized coming on the orphan train and not all were able to find a happy ending.


The only thing I didn’t like about the novel was Vivian’s lost child at the end. I felt that was sprung on the reader last minute and didn’t seem true to the character of Vivian. After her troubled times in the system, I could not understand why Vivian would give her child up for adoption, even though she was a young widow. She had her adopted parents to help her out and was a very capable young woman. For other readers of the novel, what was your sense on this development of the novel?


I loved the character development and plot of the novel. I thought the juxtaposition of the two stories and how things can be so similar between the past and present was brilliant. I highly recommend this novel.

Book Source: Review Copy from William Morrow. Thank-you!!


  1. I've seen this one all over the place. I'm making a note of it. I love books that mix different generations together to make a compelling story.

  2. Glad you liked this one--it's definitely on my list to read this summer. I love the premise and the history.

  3. I love mixed generational stories as well. Jane - you'll have to link back your post when you read it. I would love to read your review to see what you think of this book!

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

  5. Ms. Kline has done vast research for this story. The places and people come to life on the page. I have to say I enjoyed reading this novel as much as I liked learning about this little known slice of American history. Whether you like Maine or Minnesota, the Great Depression or World War II, or simply want to read a good piece of historical fiction, Orphan Train deserves a place on your book shelf.