Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Published: 2013

Genre: fiction

Length: 278 pages

Setting: Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011, and NYC to Minnesota, 1929-1943

Interest: It was chosen for book club.

Summary: We follow two timelines in this book – Molly’s in the present, and Vivian’s from the past. Molly is in foster care. Her current foster-mother isn’t too pleased to have her, but Molly’s happy in school. She’s even got a boyfriend! Her life improves further when she’s assigned to help Vivian, the old lady her boyfriend’s mother is housekeeper for, clean out her attic. Cleaning out the attic brings back memories of Vivian’s childhood. She was an immigrant from Ireland and orphaned at nine years old, soon after coming to America. She is sent to the Midwest on an orphan train. The first family that took her in wanted her for her free sewing labor. When the Depression wiped out the family’s savings, she was sent to help the mother of a poor family with her six kids. When the father tried to sexually abuse her at 10, she ran away and lived at the boarding house with her teacher. Eventually, she found a home, a family, and a new name with the local shopkeeper. Molly helps Vivian enter the 20th century with technology and reconnect with the family she lost.

Final thoughts: What a fascinating book!. I’m so glad it got picked for book club because I never would have found it on my own, and I loved it. I was under the impression that it was all about some orphans on a train, but that was just a small part to the story. I enjoyed both the present day story of Molly’s life and the historical story of Vivian’s life, and especially the connection between the two women. They both were able to open up to each other because the other person had a similar background, and knew that feeling of trying to mold yourself into someone else’s image in the hopes of being accepted into the family.

The whole idea of an orphan train was fascinating to me – that part of the story was true. It didn’t seem all that much different from a slave market, especially when you considered how many of the family used the children. Vivian didn’t even get to keep her name! (It was originally Niamh, changed to Dorothy by the first family, and then Vivian by the last family in honor of their dead daughter – creepy!) Vivian managed to find the boy she sat with on the orphan train and they got married, which made my heart swell a little with happiness. Of course, then the war came and Dutchy didn’t come home. But the saddest part of the story was when Vivian gave up her daughter for adoption. I mean – she knew how difficult it was not to have a parent. How could she do that to her own daughter? I was upset with that choice, even though I understood where it was coming from.

Title comes from: Vivian’s life made a huge turn when she was sent out to the Midwest on an orphan train.

Reading challenges fulfilled: #56 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge, and an O in my Title Reading the Alphabet Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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