Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline | Harrowing, Yet Beautiful

Credit: Goodreads

Credit: Goodreads

by Christina Baker Kline
Published: April 2013
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: She Reads Giveaway

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck or chance. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.  Click here for more background on Orphan Train.

(Synopsis from Christina Baker Kline’s website.)

My Thoughts:

You might say I have a fascination with most things orphan-related. Raised by a father who was in an orphanage from age eight to 16, I am thankful that he was not one of the 200,000 plus children moved across the country on the orphan trains. Of course, that is not to say that some of those children on the trains were not eventually placed in good homes, likely better off than my father.

As part of my basis for wanting to read Orphan Train, my father’s history is key. However, I’m also working toward writing a novel based around the early orphanage system in the United States which, like the system attempting to protect the orphans riding the trains, did not always work as a safety net for their young lives and health.

Christina Baker Kline has crafted a novel based in opposing times centered around two women generations apart in age, background, and history. And yet, these two women come together in a most unusual way to share their stories and lives, consummating in the most unlikely of friendships.

Molly Ayer, almost 18 when the story opens, has run the gamut of foster homes and is about to “age out.” To keep herself out of juvenile hall, Molly knows she must take a community service project. Of all things, her assignment is to help an elderly woman clean her attic and possibly dispose of some of her past.

The elderly woman, Vivian Daly, has a tumultuous past that she has managed to fade into blurriness. What little she does remember includes a boat trip across the ocean from Ireland, living in a less than healthy flat in New York, and then being placed on a train and being passed from home to home when things didn’t work out.

What Molly and Vivian don’t realize at the outset is that their backgrounds have parallels that will bring them ever closer to one another in friendship as well as hope and healing.

Kline’s writing is luminous, historically correct as she switches between contemporary time and the Depression era, and her characters marvelously developed with distinct descriptive detail.

My Recommendation: Orphan Train is a MUST READ if for no other reason than it highlights a time in our history that is little known and points to the broken system of foster care in our country today. You’re going to love this book!

“In this poignant novel Christina Baker Kline weaves a tapestry of the
intertwining lives of two women and affirms our hope that the present can
redeem the past and that love has a genuine power to heal.
Reminiscent of Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabel, this Orphan Train carries us
along until the stories of these two women become one.”

– Mary Morris, bestselling author of
Nothing to Declare and Revenge: A Novel

* * *

Meet the Author:

Credit: Goodreads

Credit: Goodreads

Christina Baker Kline is a novelist, nonfiction writer, and editor. In addition to Orphan Train, her novels include Bird in HandThe Way Life Should BeDesire Lines, and Sweet Water.

Kline also commissioned and edited two widely praised collections of original essays on the first year of parenthood and raising young children, Child of Mine and Room to Grow. She coauthored a book on feminist mothers and daughters, The Conversation Begins, with her mother, Christina L. Baker, and she coedited About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror with Anne Burt.

Kline grew up in Maine, England, and Tennessee, and has spent a lot of time in Minnesota and North Dakota, where here husband grew up. She is a graduate of Yale, Cambridge, and the University of Virginia, where she was a Hoyns Fellow in Fiction Writing. She has taught creative writing and literature at Fordham and Yale, among other places, and is a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation fellowship. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her family.

* * *

NEXT TIME: Let’s take a look at favorite places to read. Be ready to share your favorite spot to curl up with a good book and your favorite drink.


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22 thoughts on “Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline | Harrowing, Yet Beautiful

  1. […] only Christina Baker Kline read to date is her novel, Orphan Train (my review here). Recently, while searching my local library for good summer reading, I came across Sweet Water. […]


  2. […] on Books Orphan Train – Bookies Review and Author Christina Baker Kline Event | Book Journey Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline | Harrowing, yet Beautiful | Found Between the Covers Book Review: Orphan Train | Literary […]


  3. An absolutely fantastic book of life’s journeys. We are all on a different path but they often lead to the same destination. This is truly an inspiring story and a must-read for anyone who often ponders life’s many mysteries.


    • Sherrey Meyer February 4, 2014 at 10:35 pm Reply

      I couldn’t agree more with your observations of Orphan Train. Very inspiring and a must-read.


  4. Carol Bodensteiner August 13, 2013 at 3:51 pm Reply

    Iowa was home to some 10,000 Orphan Train riders and I’ve been fascinated by their stories ever since I wrote about this part of our history for The Iowan magazine. I’ve woven a piece of the Orphan Trains into my upcoming novel set during the early 1900s. Christina’s book has been on my TBR list for some time. Thanks for reminding me with your excellent review, Sherrey.


  5. Madeline Sharples August 12, 2013 at 1:12 pm Reply

    What an interesting story – one I had never heard of. I like the way Christina brings Molly and Vera together. Thanks for reviewing it, Sherrey.


    • Sherrey Meyer August 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm Reply

      Madeline, thanks for taking the time to read this review. The growing relationship between Molly and Vera is beautiful and touches a chord with readers. Very clever development of those two characters.


  6. Sherrey Meyer August 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm Reply

    Yes, Jennifer, truly lovely but such a sad way to live your childhood. Thanks for your always encouraging and supportive comments.


  7. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader August 11, 2013 at 8:49 am Reply

    I thought this was a lovely, though heartbreaking, read. Wonderful review as always 😀


  8. RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book August 9, 2013 at 6:49 am Reply

    Wow, you have a very deep connection to the book! I hope it helps give you another perspective for your book!

    I loved this book and agree that it is a must-read, even if someone has zero connection to orphans or no prior knowledge of orphan trains.


    • Sherrey Meyer August 9, 2013 at 9:56 am Reply

      Rebecca, you know as I read I imagined what could have happened to my dad and was so thankful it didn’t, but I was also sad he lived so many years without family. Funny, he kept the truth of his experience from us kids. I only learned the truth after I located and contacted the orphanage last year and got copies of his records. Amazing what the mind does to provide us solace during our trials.

      Have you read any other books by Kline? She is an amazing writer!


      • RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book August 11, 2013 at 2:17 pm Reply

        No I haven’t but I would read all of her books. Do you have one to suggest for me?


        • Sherrey Meyer August 11, 2013 at 3:44 pm Reply

          That didn’t come out right . . . I haven’t read any others of her books, but based on Orphan Train consider her writing as amazing. I was hoping you’d have a recommendation for me. 🙂


  9. shirleyhs August 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm Reply

    Sherrey, I just finished reading this book too. I actually had the privilege of taking a Manhattan class with Christina Baker Kline when I lived in Brooklyn. She’s great in person also. Her book blew me away. I thought the structure was brilliant. The characters were so compelling, too. Excellent review! You and I are certainly traveling parallel paths.

    Also, the Orphan Train experience has just a little similarity to the Fresh Air program which I write about in my memoir. They arose at about the same time, I think, with similar altruistic motives. But with some mixture in results also.


    • Sherrey Meyer August 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm Reply

      Shirley, I love the serendipitous path we’re traveling lately. How fortunate to be able to be in a class with Christina Baker Kline. I loved the way she handled transitioning between Vivian and Molly’s stories.

      I was interested to read your comment about the Fresh Air program and look forward to learning more as I read your book. I have a copy preordered. 🙂 And I hope that you will allow me to feature it on my blog after I’ve read it.

      I have met so many wonderful people in the online writing community and some I’d love to sit across from and share stories and experiences. You are high on that list, my friend!


      • shirleyhs August 9, 2013 at 3:23 pm Reply

        Sherrey, I would be very honored to have you feature my book. After seeing so many parallels in our interests and career paths, I am especially interested in your response. I know you will be a perceptive and compassionate and honest reviewer, the very best kind.


        • Sherrey Meyer August 9, 2013 at 8:26 pm Reply

          Shirley, I look forward to reading Blush and am honored to review it. Thanks for your kind words. They mean so much.


  10. tpolen August 8, 2013 at 7:06 am Reply

    Before this, I’d never heard of the orphan trains. I love books that also teach me something. Good luck with your book, Sherrey!


    • Sherrey Meyer August 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm Reply

      Teri, I love learning something from books I read too. Thanks for the toast of good luck my way!


  11. Melinda August 8, 2013 at 2:19 am Reply

    Yet another good review on The Orphantrain, and yours was a lovely review. I regret not requesting it, but I sure will keep it in mind or add it to the pile. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Sherrey.


    • Sherrey Meyer August 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm Reply

      Thanks for stopping by and reading my review. You will not be disappointed once you’ve picked it up.


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