Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline


Rating: 4 / 5

Molly Ayer is in the foster system, and close to aging out.  She’s having a rough time with her current foster parents, and after a petty offense, has one last chance to stay out of juvie.  Molly needs to complete 50 hours of community service, and through her boyfriend’s mom, she completes her hours by helping Vivian Daly, an elderly woman, clean out her attic.

Vivian’s life parallels Molly’s, and from that, an unlikely friendship is formed.  Back in the 1920s, Vivian lost her family in New York City to a fire, and was a child one of the orphan trains.  Orphan trains were trains from the east heading west filled with children.  The trains made stops in various cities in the mid-west, and adults would inspect the children and pick one out for adoption.   Usually the families would adopt a child to help with household chores or as a means of cheap labor, and in return, the family would shelter and raise the child, in addition to sending the child to school.  The adoption depended purely on luck and chance, and neither worked in Vivian’s favor. Through their friendship, Molly finds someone who understands the problems and uncertainty she is facing, and in return, Molly has the ability to help Vivian find closure with her past and mistakes she might have made.

Orphan Train was incredibly compelling and emotionally packed a punch.  The first half of the book was difficult to get through, for it is impossible to fathom how Vivian overcame her upbringing and other harsh events that occurred in her life.  At times it seems as if Vivian’s eight to ten year old voice is too mature, but in hindsight, she was forced to grow up at a very age. Kline does an amazing job of pulling on the reader’s heartstrings while bringing to light a part of American history that has long been forgotten.  It’s tough reading about children who have no stability, have been abandoned, or are with adults who do not have the capacity to raise a child. Orphan Train was a quick read, yet a compelling and moving read, and I think people who enjoy historical fiction will this gem.

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