Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Orphan Train

It's been awhile since I've done a book review, but it's also been awhile since I've read something that I really wanted to share.

My book club picked Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline for their book this month. I was immediately interested in the subject matter. The premise is about an organization that ships orphans from the streets of New York to the Midwest to find "loving" families willing to adopt them. While that may be the case for most of the younger children, the older ones quickly realize that they are seen as nothing but slave labor. The boys are adopted by farmers, and the girls are usually taken to be household help.

In the first few chapters, we meet Molly in the present day. She is a 17 year old who has bounced around from foster home to foster home after being orphaned at the age of 8. After getting into some trouble for stealing a library book, she is sentenced to do community service in the way of helping an older woman clear out her attic. Molly soon discovers that she has more in common with this woman that she thought.

Vivian Daly lives a quite, comfortable life in Maine now, but that wasn't always the case. As a young girl, she was orphaned when her Irish immigrant parents died in a tenement fire in New York. Vivian, then going by her birth name of Niamh (pronounced Neev), finds herself on a train with hundreds of other orphaned children going to Minnesota to find new homes. Because she is older (I believe 8 or 9 at this point), she has little hope for finding a truly good home.

Vivian's story is heartbreaking in so many ways. She too, like Molly, drifts for awhile in this book. Her resilience and strength make her an immediate underdog that the reader will cheer for. I thought Molly's story fell a bit flat, and was actually unnecessary. Kline could have just given us Vivian's story without the fluff and back and forth of Molly's. I often found myself skimming through Molly's chapters to get back to what was happening with Vivian.

The astounding part is that while this book is a work of fiction, it is largely based in fact. The orphan trains did happen. Between 1854 and 1929, nearly 200,000 children were disbursed to "parents" without so much as a background check or home visit. Some papers were signed and off they went into who knows what kind of home. While some of the book fell a little flat for me, I enjoyed reading Orphan Train and learning about a part of our nation's history that is rarely talked about. I had no idea this happened until the book came up in my book club discussion.

This is a quick read at less than 300 pages, and a perfect vacation book if you're looking for something with a little more substance than your typical "beach read".

What are you reading now? Any suggestions? 


  1. I've seen this one but never read a review! Sounds like I need to add this to my list. I just finished Divergent. Not impressed. I think now I'm going to read part 2 of the 5th book in the Game of Thrones series.

    1. I kind of loved Divergent. The third book in the series made me angry though. If you thought the writing in first was bad, you'd be appalled by the third one!!