‘Orphan Train’ by Christina Baker Kline

Yet again, I have learned more from a fictional book than I have from the history books growing up. Before reading “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline, I had no clue about the program in the late 1800s, early 1900s to transport orphaned or homeless children from the east coast to the midwest in the hopes of finding them homes. While you would think that this would be a heartwarming story of children finding a new life, it wasn’t always that way, as some kids ended up in an abusive environment or were ended up more impoverished than they were previously.

Christina Baker Kline uses this moment in history to create an emotional tale that is divided into two story lines – one focused on present day where 17-year-old Molly Ayer is trying to adjust in her new foster home in Maine, one of many since her parents died. The other goes back a few decades to tell the story of young Irish immigrant named Niamh who has recently lost her parents to a horrific fire in New York and finds herself boarding a train with hundreds of other orphaned children to a destination unknown in the midwest.

In an attempt to keep from getting thrown out of her latest foster arrangement after getting caught stealing, Molly seeks to complete community service by cleaning out the attic of an old lady named Vivian. Molly thinks it will be an easy assignment, but as the two start going through the trunks filled with dust and old memories, Molly realizes that the two may have more in common then she originally thought.

Meanwhile, we follow Niamh’s journey that has a few bumpy starts after getting adopted by a seamstress. When the business goes bankrupt with the stock market crash Niamh is back where she started until the program finds her a new home in a derelict household where Niamh is in charge of taking care of several children. However, after a traumatic experience, Niamh is thrown into the hands of several people who set her on a straighter path and a new identity.

I absolutely loved this story, especially after I learned how the two storylines ended up merging together. I loved the relationship between Vivian and Molly. While it may seem of a cliche story line of a young recluse finding her way through the direction of a wise older mentor, Kline does it in such a way that it is bittersweet. Both characters get something out of the bargain but I think Vivian more than Molly. I thought the ending was going to be that Molly finds purpose and Vivian says goodbye to some old ghosts but it ends up being so much more. The fact that it is the start of a whole new chapter in some regards for both of them was definitely unexpected, but I won’t say more for fear of giving it away.

Kline did a great a job with this story and her writing was enveloping. Every time I picked up this book, I had no trouble picking up where I left off and being swept away with the story. I honestly didn’t want this story to end.

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