Book Reviews

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline


Orphan Train, unlike the last I read (Brian on Fire) was a fast paced, edge on the seat, complex, and exciting novel which I had a hard time putting down; this might be why I was able to finish it in less than a week. If you’re like me, you might not have ever heard of this book before. I am lucky enough to be a part of a WONDERFUL book club and this was chosen as our October book, thanks Falen! Though this book is not a true story it is inspired by true events. It’s obvious as you read along that the author did a great deal of research and interviewing to ensure that the facts were true to the time and to those who were apart of the orphan trains.

What is an Orphan Train?

Until reading this book I had never heard of such a thing as an ‘orphan train’ – that might be due to my age or the fact that many who were apart of the ‘orphan trains’ don’t always have the tendency to talk about it. According to the author of this book, between 1854-1929 there was a reported 200 thousand children relocated from the East Coast of the United Stated to the Midwest; many of these children were immigrants from other countries and either on the journey to the States or upon arrival found themselves without parents.

If you found yourself homeless and parent-less during those times, there was a chance that an organization called the Children’s Aid Society might step in and help you. The organization was church centered and tried finding homes for these parent-less children. The hope was that those who took in the children would care for them which included shelter, schooling, church, and hopefully love them like their own. This however, was not the case for many children. Some of the people who took in these children wanted free labor which at times resulted in no schooling or church for these children. This was not the fate of all children but many; there are stories out there written by actual orphan train riders that depict what the experience was like for them.

Who is this Story about?

This story has 2 leading ladies, we begin by meeting Molly a 17 year old Penobscot Indian foster child who ends up crossing paths with Vivian, a 91 year old Irish immigrant who was once on the New York orphan train which brought her to Minnesota and is now just a wealthy widow living in Maine. The present day story which is set in 2011 follow Molly which leads to meeting Vivian, over the course of several months Vivian shares with Molly what happened in her early childhood between 1929 to 1943. Overall, the story is very much about Vivian but it is Molly who brings out details about Vivian past that bring the story alive and in the end bring about an unexpected ending.

My Thoughts

For starters, this was such an easy read for me which mad me SO happy! Others in book club struggled somewhat with switching between time periods and main characters but I personally found it easy to follow. Overall, the time spent in the past and the present felt just about right except for the ending, that felt a little rushed – I thought there was more to be known to the point that a 2nd book was somewhat desired in place of some of the rushed details of the ending. The book itself is just under 300 pages but there is another 15 or so pages after where the author includes information as how the story came about that I found very insightful – also checkout the discussion questions at the end if you want to talk about this book with others! There were parts of this book where events that occurred (both good and bad) that I found to be predictable however as I thought about it these details could very well be true to the experiences people had at the time. Though I was able to guess as to what might occur at times, the majority of the book was not like that. Instead I was on the edge of might seat waiting to know what was going to happen next – this was primarily true for Vivian’s story.

Though I could not relate to the core of who each woman in the book was – I am neither a foster child, orphan, or widow – it was the emotions that they felt that I could connect to. In the end, both women were hoping for more (of something) and to be loved. I think those are things that anyone can relate to; I always enjoy books more when I can relate, even in a small way. Another big way that I was able to connect to the book was due to the fact that it was somewhat based in Minnesota – this is where I was born and have spent the last 26 years of my life! When this book was chosen for book club it was unknown to Falen that we would be reading about our own state, but it made for a wonderful surprise. I really enjoyed reading about what it was like back 75-90 years ago in Minnesota – the author painted wonderful pictures in the way she described things to the point that I almost felt transported to the time in which she was speaking of throughout the book.

Must Read?

Heck YES! I cannot believe it has taken me almost 27 years to read a story about a topic that has been around for so long and affected so many lives. For me, Orphan Train was a perfect read as it was educational but not boring as it had such an intricate and compelling story intertwined with all the facts of the time and experience. I highly recommend reading Orphan Train but if you do, be prepared; A co-worker of mine asked me if this book was sad and I honestly needed to think about it because its complex. Yes, there are tragedies that both women have to endure throughout the course of their life in which we learn about in the book however in the end it seems like everything happened just as it was supposed to which is a good/ positive thing. All in all, I really enjoyed this book and I hope you do too! If you have read this book be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions!


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