Orphan Train: Book Review

By Michelle Hudson, Communications & Development Associate for Willoughby-Eastlake Public Library.

Critically acclaimed author Christina Baker Kline highlights the true story of thousands of abandoned children who were relocated from the East Coast to the Midwest between 1834-1929 in her international bestseller Orphan Train.

Set in present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is the story of two women who build an unlikely friendship. Vivian is a 91-year-old who has a hidden past as an orphan train rider and Molly is a troubled teen with one last chance to make things right. Novelist Christina Baker Kline brings the story of these two vulnerable and courageous women to life.

Molly is an opinionated and intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who lives with her foster parents in Spruce Harbor, Maine. Molly’s father was a Native American and her mother is white. As a child, Molly lived with her parents in a trailer on an Indian reservation in Maine. When Molly was eight years old, her father died. A few months later, her mother went to jail and Molly was placed in foster care. Over the years, she has struggled to develop trusting relationships with those around her. Throughout the novel, her friendship with 91-year-old Vivian Daly transforms her ability to connect.

Vivian was born in Ireland in 1920 and as a young child, she immigrated to New York with her parents and siblings. Her father and brothers died in a house fire and her mother was placed in a mental hospital. Vivian was then sent off to the Midwest on the orphan train. In Minnesota, she moved between two abusive adoptive families before finding her way to an affluent couple who loved and raised her as their own. Vivian was married twice and is a mother to daughter Sarah, who she gave up for adoption. As a lonely widow, Vivian finds comfort in telling Molly the story of her life.

Orphan Train is a work of fiction, however it touches on the real-life stories of those who rode the trains between 1854 and 1929, when more than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children were transported from eastern United States to the Midwest for adoption.

Meet author Christina Baker Kline and others at the Northcoast Writers’ Showcase on Saturday, April 28 from 11 am-5 pm at Lake Erie College.

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