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4.6 out of 5 stars
Orphan Train
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VINE VOICEon February 4, 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
On the coast of Maine lives a wealthy ninety-one year old woman named Vivian Daly. Yet in her attic are trunks that reveal the secrets of her turbulent past.

It is the year 2011, and nearby in the same town of Spruce Harbor, lives a seventeen-year-old girl named Molly Ayer who has bounced from foster home to foster home, and is now in a situation involving petty theft that will require some kind of community service.

Told in beautifully evocative prose, the story unfolds in alternate perspectives, revealing what has happened to each of them, and how the parallel lines of their lives now converge to spotlight the similarities between them.

From Vivian's early childhood in Ireland, to New York City, comes her passage on the Orphan Trains in 1929. A journey that will take her to Minnesota, from one home to another, never really knowing what home feels like, as she is treated like a slave and seldom has enough of anything, much less affection or love.

What Molly sees when she meets the elderly woman is a wealthy person who could not begin to understand her or her issues. But as the two of them clean out the boxes in the attic, the stories they share with one another reveal so much more than either could have suspected.

The characters, both the primary ones and the supporting ones, brought so much color and emotion to the stories that I could feel as though I were sitting in their midst, observing and listening to them. And as I neared the end of Orphan Train: A Novel, I really could not have imagined a more beautiful or satisfying conclusion, and with it came a feeling that these characters would live on in my memories.

At one point, Molly is at Vivian's home, taking in her recent good fortune:

"Sitting in the rocker in the kitchen, looking out at the water, Molly feels oddly at peace. For the first time since she can remember, her life is beginning to make sense. What up until this moment has felt like a random, disconnected series of unhappy events she now views as necessary steps in a journey toward...enlightenment is perhaps too strong a word, but there are others, less lofty, like self-acceptance and perspective...."

It is impossible to read this story and not take away from it the knowledge that wonderfully unexpected moments can happen in a life, even in one that is full of turbulence, pain, loss, and the sense of being an outsider. And when such moments occur, it is also impossible not to celebrate. Or feel the sense of exuberance that comes with the gifts of love, acceptance, and second chances. A story with a perfect ending that I won't share here, for fear of spoiling it for the reader. Suffice it to say that you will love Vivian and Molly and will feel the joy of their unique connection. Five stars.
1,108 helpful votes
1,109 helpful votes
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on April 2, 2013
I continue to be amazed at the things I learn about the history of this country from reading books. Orphan Train is based in fact; from the mid 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th century there was no system for dealing with orphans or what we would consider foster children today. It was left to churches and charitable organizations. And for those who feel that they are best left to deal with these social issues, I suggest you research the orphan trains because their solution was to take the children into various cities and give them away to anyone who wanted a child. No background checks, no follow up, no nothing. These children were left with people in the hopes that they would be given a good life. Some were, many were nothing more than house slaves. I'll get off the soapbox now.

The book juxtaposes two lives - that of young Molly, a foster child of the current generation who lives with a family that is divided as to her presence. The "father" is pleasant to her and sees the good in Molly but the "mother" would rather she be gone and in all truth is only doing the foster thing for the money it brings into the household. The second life is that of Vivian - born Niamh, who becomes Dorothy and ultimately Vivian as she is left alone in New York after her family is killed in a fire. She is taken in by Children's Aid and sent West on an Orphan Train to hopefully find a new home. What she finds at first is mistreatment, suspicion and abuse.

While on the train she meets some other orphans one of whom will play an important role in her life. Most of the other characters, though fade into the background as the story focuses on Vivian and Molly and how the two of them reconcile their pasts which are not as different as they might think.

I sped through the first 2/3rds of this book totally enthralled with Vivian's story. Molly's life was really not as interesting or as fleshed out as Vivian's and I suppose that since the book IS titled Orphan Train it should be focused on Vivian. Once the book hit the point in the story that moved it to the present it was as if all the rich detail that made the first part so compelling went out the window. There was an OMG moment in the book and then everything was rushed and it became, at least to me, a book of what could have been.

It was as if the author had only so many pages left and had to fit in more information than allotted space. I felt cheated somehow and very disappointed. The book could have been so much more and I feel the loss of what I know I've missed.

763 helpful votes
764 helpful votes
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on November 9, 2016
A story that very well could have been based on facts??? This parallel story between a modern day girl that is caught up in the system and an older woman that had been on one of the orphans from an orphan train and caught up in that system. Circumstances cause situations that were often beyond the control of the person involved. The interwoven stories showed restoration and hope for both characters. I didn't like the fact the not telling the truth was reinforced in several situations but I have no alternative solutions to prevent the lies. The ending was awesome!!!
2 helpful votes
3 helpful votes
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on March 31, 2016
This book was unlike anything else I'd read lately, so I really enjoyed it. It bounces back and forth between the present and the past, in a way that's easy to follow. The present is the story of a teenager in the foster system who works with an older lady to finish some community service hours. The past is the story of a girl whose family dies in a fire and is sent on an orphan train to the midwest to be adopted. I loved the ways these two stories intertwined throughout the book, and even though they are set in such different time periods/places, there are so many similarities between these two girls' lives. I had no idea the orphan train was a real thing! Though this book is fiction, it opened my eyes to a piece of history that was new to me.
1 helpful vote
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VINE VOICEon December 24, 2014

The orphan train movement in the United States between1853 and 1929 is not a well-known social welfare program. It was sponsored for the most part by the Children's Aid Society and relocated over 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children from the East coast to foster homes in the Midwest. The children ranged in age from 4 to 18; some were even younger. Notices announcing the arrival of the trains were posted in mainly rural areas and residents were invited to view and inspect the children and, if deemed suitable, they could be taken home. The program was ended with the advent of organized foster care in America.

Times were hard, food was scarce, and some children received wretched care from their foster parents. Others were fortunate enough to be received into well-off circumstances. The spectrum of their stories is wide and varied. Christina Baker Kline, author of "Orphan Train," became interested in the story of these children, conducted an enormous amount of research, and has written a beautiful account of an orphan train survivor who bonds in later years with a contemporary young woman who is experiencing personal hardships of her own. And so a seventeen-year old rebel struggling to find her way and a ninety-one year wealthy old lady who survived her early years as a train orphan come together in a touching and healing relationship that develops into a remedy for their mutual loneliness.

Vivian is the survivor of crushing poverty in rural Ireland, the immigrant turmoil of late 1920 in New York City, the loss of her family in a fire, and a subsequent train trip with strangers to a land of poverty, ignorance, mistreatment, and abuse. She is nine-years old when her journey by train begins.

Molly, a contemporary nonconformist, has been in and out of numerous foster homes and refuses to bend to someone else's idea of how to conduct her life. She has a tattoo, piercings, and dyed hair. She has trouble controlling her mouth, getting along with others, and is fiercely independent. Her boyfriend has learned that he is simply along for the ride and operates under Molly's rule.

Molly is given community service for stealing a book from the public library and, as a last resort before she has to serve time, she agrees to help the elderly Vivian clean out her attic. As they work together sorting through the debris of Vivian's past, life's stories are revealed, similar experiences are shared, and closeness develops. Molly provides the steady companionship that Vivian has never enjoyed, and the elderly woman provides encouragement and purpose to Molly's unanchored existence.

This is a marvelous book written with clarity and filled with historical accounts based on careful research. The relationship between the two women as described by the author is poignant and demonstrates the importance of taking time to listen to each other. I enjoyed the book greatly and highly recommend it.

Schuyler T Wallace
7 helpful votes
8 helpful votes
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on September 12, 2014
This is the kind of writing that sucks you in and makes you feel like you're actually there. Vivian's story is compelling except during the most "romantic" part of the novel, which is very predictable and formulaic. It's the only part of the novel I was at all disappointed with. The author constructs this story in such as way as to convey the impression that there are fates that control our lives and that our journeys are somehow planned out in the sense that "things happen for a reason.". She doesn't beat you over the head with the idea, but I personally found this whimsical fancy a little irritating. Yes, things happen for a reason and that reason is usually physics. It's easy to contrive a fated journey when you're making it up, but this is not a reflection of real life. I highly recommend this read as it is as engaging as all get out. Rarely am I sucked in by a work of fiction, but this did quite a number on me.
1 helpful vote
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on April 4, 2017
The title of the book is misleading. This is not about the orphan trains, but rather about one character that had been on an orphan train. That being said, the book was an easy, quick read. The plotlines and characters were fairly predictable. There was not much character development. The story also ends abruptly, as if the author realized she had no idea what to do with the characters after a certain point. If you're looking for an in-depth novel about this less-than-stellar part of American history, this isn't it.
1 helpful vote
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on April 20, 2017
Probably one of the best books I've read in a very long time. This is a story about poor children plucked off the street and sent by trains to the midwest to be "adopted". They were actually sent to become slaves by people who have "adopted" them. This is a heart-wrenching true story which is almost unbelievable to even begin to comprehend that this actually happened. Read this book. You will not be disappointed.
1 helpful vote
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on June 8, 2017
I could NOT quit reading and my heart sank when it ended--I wanted MORE! A very enjoyable read, and I love the bonds formed in this historical novel. I have had an interest in the Orphan Trains since a visit through Rapid City, SD two years ago & found later that a couple if those trains made stops in my hometown in SE Kansas & I knew (or of) some of the children who had been adopted. I highly recommend this book, it's a great read.
Nursedot in KS
1 helpful vote
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on May 25, 2014
Having no idea what an "orphan train" was, I delved into this book with some curiosity and found I couldn't put it down. The story follows an unlikely pair: a 91 year old wealthy widow and a 17 year old troubled teen who is trapped in the foster care system. The riveting tale delves into the life of the foster care program in the 1920's and the orphan trains that took children from the streets of New York City and transported them to a "better life" in the state of Minnesota, and a peek at the current foster care system. Both women begin to open up to each other about their past and manage to deal with the "ghosts" that occupy their lives. Thoroughly enjoyable.
1 helpful vote
2 helpful votes
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