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on March 25, 2014
etween 1854 and 1929 orphaned and homeless children cast out from the teeming tenements to the harsh streets of New York City were collected and boarded on special railroad trains headed for the farmlands of the American West. The hope of the organizers was finding families to offer these nine to 13 year olds a home and new beginning.



Over a period of sixty years a quarter million indigent immigrant children were sent West. From station to station in small towns west of Chicago they were paraded by poorly equipped social workers before prospective foster parents, many of whose motives were less than noble. Few if any background checks of the perspective families were completed. Children were selected at each stop and those that were not chosen moved on to the next whistle-stop somewhere down the line. There was little or no follow-up and many of these children became little more than un-paid household labor and farm help, often in dysfunctional families. Many were not given the opportunity to attend school.


Christina Baker Kline in her riveting New York Times best selling novel Orphan Train (2013) weaves a story of how the toxic ingredients of the Orphan Trains, conceived to rescue children from the depravity of New York's streets, often cast them into even worse circumstances. Orphan Train is the story of one train rider, a 9 year-old girl, who finally in her 90s comes to reveal her secret story to yet another rider from a turbulent world of another era.


The story is powerful and Orphan Train is a rewarding read, both historically and emotionally. Christina Baker, in remarkable fashion, creates a protagonist who vividly portrays this little known chapter in American history.

Earlier this year I referred you to Jacob Riis's How The Other Half Lives @ gordonsgoodreads.com. Riss was among the first Muckrakers , uncovering social injustice in America. It is in his How The Other Half Lives that I first learned the history of the Orphan Trains.

Orphan Train is a novel so well researched that it could be categorized a historical novel. Kline was able to interview four actual train riders when they were in their late 90s. Other works of fiction by Christina Baker Kline are Sweet Water, Desire Lines, The way Life Should Be and Bird in Hand.
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on August 12, 2017
This story is based on our American history. An Penobseot Indian, Molly Ayes, known as Molly in the story is an orphan in the orphanage and foster home system. Molly has to work several community service hours before her record is clear in the system. A 91 year old woman, Vivian is willing to help Molly providing Molly is willing to work. They come to an agreement Vivian needs her attic cleaned out and when they finish Mollys records will be clean.

The two start going through boxes and trunks in the attic. As the two women work together they become friends. They both are amazed at the number of boxes and trunks that are in the attic. The boxes and trunks are full of mysteries, stories, secrets and treasures as they unpack, clean out and repack all the treasures are revealed

I enjoyed the story that crosses into two centuries. Although these are fictional characters they represent people that lived in the past. A well written book about our history of our past.
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on April 27, 2017
I am an 8th grade girl who read this book as an independent reading assignment. I loved the book and the messages it leaves.
The book begins with Molly, an orphan girl in 2011 living in a foster home. Her foster mother is upset with her but they soon overcome it. Next, we meet Vivian, a nine-year-old Irish girl in the 1930's who goes by Niamh and must board the orphan train. In the present day, Molly and Vivian meet in the present day, when she is 91. Molly needs community service hours because she's been caught stealing a book from the library. Vivian's attic is full of stuff and Molly's job is to help clean it out. This sets the stage for the interweaving of two tales: Vivian's difficult past as an orphan and Molly's present as a foster child. We then see their stories unfold throughout the book.
Orphan Train is a wonderful novel filled with comparisons of Molly and Vivian. Vivian's story is the subject of the book, the Orphan Train. She had emigrated from Ireland with her family as a young girl. At age nine her family was killed in a tenement fire. She, along with hundreds of other orphans was put on a train headed to Minnesota where, it was hoped they would find people to adopt them. Both are moved many times from home to home and Vivian, though her troubles are more extreme, relates to Molly and they form a friendship that crosses generations.
Vivian was first taken home by a family who only wanted free labor. They would lock the refrigerator, make her sleep in the hallway, and wouldn't let her use the indoor restroom. It went from bad to worse. The next family was extremely poor, with many kids, whom Vivian was expected to take care of. None of the parents worked and the dad would hunt squirrels for the family to eat. All of the children shared a room and the mother was very rude to her. Thanks to her kind teacher at school, who took pity on Vivian, she was rescued and her life began to improve dramatically. Vivian found a happy home and a family that adopted her and gave her the name Vivian, after their daughter who had died. She ends up having a good life.
Molly's life is hard but not as hard as Vivian's. Even though her foster parents don't love her and make her eat meat when she is a vegetarian, she isn't treated like slave labor. Learning of Vivian's harsh childhood gives her perspective on her own life and hope for a better future. Throughout the book, the two women bond and learn from each other.
This is a great historical fiction novel. The only thing I disliked about this book is that it is based on real events in America's history. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a heart-warming tale.
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on July 6, 2016
Really great read. It had plenty of intensity and great historical perspective. I liked the way the two stories interwove. I thought Vivian was a little sad--not allowing herself to love--but it was remedied nicely at the end. Very touching.

There is a little graphic action in the middle (SPOILER ALERT: attempted rape scene) which was hard to read. It wasn't especially graphic or sexual, but the mood and actions are pretty terrible and it is painful, as a mother, to read that. But pretty central to the story as well. Just awful to imagine...
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on March 20, 2014
The book we read was The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, and while it is fiction, it is based on real events.
An estimated 30,000 children were homeless in New York City in the 1850s. The children ranged in age from about six to 18 and shared a common grim existence. Homeless or neglected, they lived in New York City's streets and slums with little or no hope of a successful future. In 1850, approximately 25% of those residents were Irish.

Charles Loring Brace, the founder of The Children's Aid Society, believed that there was a way to change the futures of these children. By removing youngsters from the poverty and debauchery of the city streets and placing them in morally upright farm families, he thought they would have a chance of escaping a lifetime of suffering.
He proposed that these children be sent by train to live and work on farms out west. They would be placed in homes for free but they would serve as an extra pair of hands to help with chores around the farm. They wouldn't be indentured, but treated as family members, to be raised and educated to be productive members of society. In fact, older children placed by The Children's Aid Society were to be paid for their labors.
Some of the children went on to lead simple, very normal lives, raising their families and working towards the American dream. Many others weren’t so lucky, and were treated no better than slaves.

As a 9-year-old Irish immigrant, red-headed and freckled, Niamh Power lost everything to a fire. Her father and two brothers died immediately, her mother was taken away on a stretcher, and she was told that her infant sister Maisie didn’t make it. Kindly neighbors brought Niamh (pronounced Neev) to the Children’s Aid Society, and she was alone in the world.

Along the way she met Dutchy, who would be the love of her life. Her name was changed several times because ‘Niamh’ was too foreign. Eventually she became Vivian Daly. She suffered at the hands of her foster parents – overworked, underfed, ignored, and raped, and then ignored again. She moved to Maine as an adult, with memories stashed away in trunks and boxes in the attic. And when Molly Ayer met her, she was an old widow with no grip on life.
Molly is a child of the foster system, too, and as a Penobscot Indian, she has been treated as an outsider, cared for, but not cared about. Community service – cleaning out Vivian Daly’s attic – is the only thing keeping her out of juvie. This is her last chance.

This story has everything covered: coming of age, redemption, resolution, and rediscovery. As a group, we loved it. We discussed a few things that bothered us: How could people treat children that badly? How could Vivian give up her child to the foster care system since she had such a dreadful experience? We wished the character of Molly would have been developed a little more; we wanted to know more about her. We would definitely recommend this to others.
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on September 30, 2016
Molly became an orphan following the death of her father and her mother's decent into a world of drugs and alcohol. Her world is a mess as a result of being passed from foster home to foster home and a teenage mistake that results in her being assigned 50 hours of community service. Vivian is 91 years old and is an Irish immigrant who became orphaned during the great depression. The lives of both women are changed forever when they come together as a result the community service project assigned to Molly.

It would truly be a shame if I gave this book anything less than a five-stare rating. Books having strong, believable characters are fairly common but it is rare when you read a book that has true depth. As Molly and Vivian reflect on their past, we experience a heart-warming story that depicts the desperation and suffering people faced during the great depression. Will our journey through time with Molly and Vivian end in disaster or will it show the reader once again that clouds do sometimes have a silver lining? Only the reader will know.

An excellent read .. I highly recommend this book.
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This is an intertwined story of Molly, a 17 year old vegetarian Goth in the foster system in Maine, and Vivian, a 93yr old woman who was once an Irish orphan sent out to Minnesota on an "orphan train." Orphans were rounded up and sent out to be farmed out to families needing cheap (read "unpaid") labor or, if babies, adopted to childless couples.

Vivian and Molly meet when Molly has to work off community service by helping Vivian clean her attic. The boxes in the attic are stuffed with mementos of Vivian's past. As the story unfolds, we change from New York and Minnesota of the early 20's, to current day Maine and Molly's life with her foster family. Naturally, there are a lot of parallels between an orphan of the 20's and a foster child who lost her father and who's mother is a druggie. The intertwined story is deftly done.

My grandfather was an immigrant farmer in North Dakota (he later moved to Kansas to run a grocery store.) My mom's book club was reading this book and someone who knew her dad's background suddenly asked "Was your dad on the Orphan Train"? No, he was educated in New Jersey when he came off the boat in New York from Sweden (where he'd been a sailor after leaving Latvia.) He migrated west to farm. Not an orphan, but...a good question. How many of us who have Midwest roots have relatives who ended up transported out to farms because they were orphaned in New York City?

The characters are well-drawn and the story has those gritty details that make you feel you are standing right there in the room with Vivian or Molly. I just couldn't put it down and read it all in one go. And I'll probably read it again, though it's a tough read in many places. The cruelty and neglect people dumped on the most unfortunate among them is downright despicable. No pity on the hired hand. Especially if it's a family-less child. Sad.
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on November 27, 2016
If you look at my other reviews here, you'll see that this is NOT the type of book I normally read; however, I still loved this!

EDIT: after sleeping on it, I reduced my rating to 4 stars for two reasons (POSSIBLE SPOILERS).

1. Vivian's choices revealed towards the end of the book don't quite make sense to me, given her history with Maisie, Carmine, and her personal not-always-pleasant experiences. Not that I have been in anything remotely like that situation, but, even through her numbness/depression or what have you, I would have thought that Vivian would want to hold tight to that piece of "the love of her life." I feel like the author chose drama for the sake of drama.

2. Molly was more than a bit cliché. I get that parallels between the two main women were wanted, but enough similarities could have been achieved if, say, Molly was still living with but was an afterthought to her biological mother.
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on June 27, 2016
The Orphan Train is a light treatment of a fascinating topic: the mass forced migration of hundreds of thousands of children without guardians (orphaned or otherwise) from NYC to the Midwest by the Children's Aid Society, a Christian mission which believed that instilling Midwestern values in NYC's vagrant children would save them from a life of evil and vice. The element I think I enjoyed most about this book is how the author created a modern-day "orphan" and juxtaposed her with a nonagenarian orphan and had the two women (re)discover family, love and joie de vivre through their interactions. The characters could have been more deeply developed, more finely drawn. But as a light beach read, this book is very satisfying.
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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!!!
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