By: Christina Baker Kline
Published: April 2, 2013
I had been hearing how wonderful this book was, but I didn’t realize how wonderful until I began reading it.  If I could have shut out the rest of the world and read it in one sitting, I would have.  ORPHAN TRAIN shifts from a story set in 1920-1930’s to one set in 2011.  We are first introduced to Molly who is entrenched in the foster care system.  She has been shuffled from one place to another after her father was killed in a car accident and her mother prefers her drug life over being a mom. She is currently living with a couple who appear to only be in it for the monthly income of having a foster child.  When Molly decides to take a book from the local library that she is sure they won’t miss and gets caught, she decides to serve her punishment via community service.  During her time, she will be helping a 90-year-old woman clean out her attic.

Vivian is the only surviving member of her family left.  Her attic is full of items and her housekeeper feels it is time she gets rid of some things…with the help of Molly.  What ends up happening is through the boxes and boxes of items, we learn Vivian’s story of a child orphaned after her family immigrated to New York City from Ireland.  After a devastating fire, Vivian ends up on the orphan train, headed to the Midwest in hopes of finding a family.

I have read several books where the storyline travels back and forth from the present to the past and this book did it right.  The author gives you just enough information and weaves the current story into the story from the past, traveling through each story with ease and keeping the reader intrigued.  Each chapter is well-labeled with time and place so you can get your mind set before you start in on the chapter.

The horrors of the life of a orphan, both present and past, will give you great sympathy for those who have been in that situation.  In this story we also go through The Depression as well as WWII with the characters and can feel the agony of those times in the words of the novel.

I chose ORPHAN TRAIN for our book club this month.  All of us loved it and we had lots of rich discussion about the characters and their actions.  There were discussion questions included in the book as well as historical facts and photos about the real orphan trains that traveled to the Midwest.

The author has based this novel on facts.  She happened upon the history of the orphan train and found a way to tell their stories.  Thankfully there are still survivors left to interview and have their stories be told.  It is a part of our history that shouldn’t be forgotten.  I highly recommend you place ORPHAN TRAIN at the top of your reading list.

Christina Baker Kline

Christina Baker Kline, the author of five novels, as well as an editor and non-fiction writer.  She grew up in Maine, England, and the American South. She is married to a Midwesterner whose family history inspired her new novel, ORPHAN TRAIN. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and three boys.  

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