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on May 31, 2014
Vivian is an elderly, childless widow who has a story to tell, but no one who is interested in listening. Molly is a foster child, bounced from family to family. She has become jaded over the years, but still has a good heart buried deep inside. Through a series of events, Molly finds herself needing to work off some community service hours. The mother of her boyfriend works for Vivian as housekeeper, and wants someone, anyone, to get Vivian into her overstuffed attic and clean it out.

What starts out as an assignment in which Molly merely expects to serve out her time turns into a much deeper experience for her. As each box in the attic is opened, Vivian begins to talk about the significance of each item, and through her eyes Molly (and we) see the reality of the Orphan Train experience.

As Vivian relates her life, from Irish immigrant child, to the loss of her family in a tragic fire, to the forced move west on the Orphan Train and the sadness and happiness that come from that, we see Molly grow as well. She, who started out at as cynical and detached, opens up to Vivian and begins to enjoy their time together. In the end, she orchestrates a reunion for Vivian that is both touching and unexpected.

This is a good read. The characters are well developed over the length of the book. The story is engaging, and is true to the period (both flash-back and current). I recommend.
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on February 14, 2017
I noticed all the good reviews and publicity surrounding ORPHAN TRAIN when the book was first published a few years ago. I had ORPHAN TRAIN on my To Be Read list but never got around to reading the novel. I knew the book was based on true stories of children shipped across America in the early part of the last century. When I saw the book was available for review, I signed up pronto, wondering why the publisher was sending it on tour again years later.
I learned on the very first page entitled “Dear Reader” that Christina Baker Kline decided to revamp the book (or a certain situation in the book) slightly due to reader feedback. As she says, she “would have the chance to fix small errors, update factual information, clarify and sharpen the language in places, and – most important – add a scene that I’ve long regretted not including.” Ms. Kline even mentioned Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory in her letter to the reader.
The book was definitely a “could not put down” experience for me. I read it over the course of three days only because I had events to attend over a weekend or I probably would have finished it half that time.
ORPHAN TRAIN was a mix of favorite childhood books of mine such as ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, HEIDI, and UNDERSTOOD BETSY, and Ms. Kline used the L.M. Montgomery Anne book in her story. Niamh (pronounced Neev) was an Irish immigrant girl sent on an orphan train from New York City to Minnesota in the late 1920s. At the same time, the book is the 2011 story of Molly, a high-school teen getting ready to age out of foster care in New England. Niahm, changed to Dorothy and then to Vivian, and Molly meet unexpectedly when Molly is tasked with helping 91-year-old Vivian clean out her attic to get in community service hours for stealing a library book. This situation proved to be cathartic and affirming for both Molly and Vivian.
I thought Ms. Kline presented a wonderful story of historical fiction using flashbacks of Vivian’s life intertwined with a believable foster child in today’s system.
At the end of the new version, an author interview and reading group guide are presented, as well as a short history on the orphan trains.
ORPHAN TRAIN is now a personal favorite and one of my most highly recommended book I have reviewed.
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on March 27, 2017
Words cannot express how much I loved this book. From the first page I knew that this was going to be a page-turner. Molly's story on its own made me keep on reading. However , the story of Niamh (Dorothy/Vivian) was 10 times more heartbreaking and uplifting than I anticipated. Parts of this book made me cry like a little girl, I felt all the sorrow and the loneliness of our main protagonist. I also felt joy and hope when she finally got what she longed for her entire life.

There is a lesson in this book not lost on me. Regardless of how many twists and turns your life takes, the people and the circumstances, you will end exactly where you were meant to be. It is the choices you make and how you choose to take what life gives you that makes the difference.

It's an amazing story, one that unfortunately has a base in reality. Orphan children thrown into a system that did not care for their well-being, forced to endure abuse and neglect. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.

This book has inspired me to look for ways to help children like Niamh and Molly. It really kills me to think of the thousands of children enduring similar situations today.
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on October 7, 2015
This is a great book about a part of US history (clearly NOT our proudest hour) that I knew nothing about. Abandoned orphan children in the Eastern United States were taken on trains to remote towns in the midwest for over 75 years from about 1876 to the 1920's and 1930. and were indeed (almost) "auctioned off" to families who would take them in (or farmers looking for a cheap farmhand, or small factory owners looking for cheap labor.) The book featured a modern day "abandoned child" who is about to turn 18 and go "out of the system" and a woman in her nineties that live in a huge and lovely home. Both are fictional characters who represent very real situations that they have lived through. I will not spoil the story, but it is full of surprises as the two women, young and old, clean out the attic in the huge and lovely home. They find more in common than they knew. The author skillfully ties together the similarities in their stories, and the reader is horrified upon occasion, frequently surprised, and rarely disappointed. I found it an enticing read; there is a point where it is hard to pub down. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and also found it thought provoking. And I have discovered that I know some granddaughters of "Orphan Train" riders, which has been fascinating to learn.
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on May 4, 2015
I've read other books about this event in history. It is a sad chapter in our nation's history. Treating children like animals at an auction could hardly ever turn out well for anyone. So, that made this story hard to read because of the continuing tragedy and sadness.

Molly's about-change in her attitude was hard for me to relate to....from Goth to normal, given her circumstances, just didn't seem realistic to me. Also, what Vivian does (not wanting to give anything away) is totally unbelievable. When you truly love someone, you want something to remember them by. You don't discard something so precious so as not to be hurt again. In Vivian's case, she clung to the necklace to remember her Gram by, so why would she do what she did? Why wouldn't she keep a reminder of what she loved best in all the world? Seemed too unlikely. And, the ending was just a little too happy and perfect given the circumstances..
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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.

NOTICE OF ARRIVING TRAIN !

HOMES WANTED FOR CHILDREN. A COMPANY OF ORPHAN CHILDREN OF DIFFERENT AGES WILL ARRIVE AT OAKLAND, IOWA, FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 1904. THE DISTRIBUTION WILL TAKE PLACE AT 10:30 AM AND 1:30 PM.

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.

'' THE CHILD YOU SELECT IS YOURS FOR FREE, ON A 90 DAY TRIAL, AT WHICH POINT IF YOU SO CHOOSE, YOU MAY SEND HIM BACK."

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.

"NOBODY WANTS ME. I HAVE TO GET BACK ON THE TRAIN." "ALL RIGHT CHILDREN THE JOURNEY CONTINUES, THE GOOD PEOPLE OF ALBANS, MINNESOTA ARE WAITING."

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 January 18, 2016
This gripping page turner based on American history captivates and grips from beginning to end. It left me wrung out, emotionally exhausted yet smiling hopefully at the end. There is enough loss, human rottenness, resignation and stark reality in this book to wipe the smile from any Pollyanna. Yet there are amazing moments when life lightens and sodden emotional clouds part to breathless clarity palpable with hope when a character encounters a healthy connection with someone. In the book, as in life, it takes but few good connections to convince a battered soul into hanging on and keeping on despite the odds. These gritty girls/women survive, find each other through time and we become a tad more enlightened as to USA history and human nature. Orphan Train, A Novel is a really good read. I particularly recommend it for history buffs, genealogists, adoptees, their parents and fostered children of every age.
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on August 31, 2014
I was a history and social studies major in college and am certified to teach all such subjects. And yet I had never heard of the orphan trains and the major impact that they had upon the lives of more than 200,000 abandoned and homeless children for 75 years of our history. I am grateful to Christina Baker Kline for bringing this powerfully human story to vivid life. And although the novel is classed as "women's friendship fiction," it was deeply touching to this all-male man. I loved the two main characters and the way they were brought together so skillfully and believably.
I was impressed by the clear, effective writing style and the author's complete control of the intricate plot. Everything in the novel has the stamp of reality. These are real people. Their lives are gradually opened to us, unfolded in a most convincing manner. The theme of bonding that lifts each of the women above the harshness of the past and opens new vistas of hope, even for the 91-year-old widow, is inspiring. As Molly muses, "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." Such moments in life are few, but they do occur, and when they do, they are truly magical. Reading this novel can create such a moment for anyone with feeling.
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on May 16, 2016
The Orphan Trains operated from the 1850's until 1929 to shuttle abandoned children from New York City to midwestern cities where the children were put on display so that they could be chosen by a couple that was willing to take in the child. There were no background checks, nor any questions asked as to the suitability of the couple that wanted to take in the child. The couple was allowed to return the child after a 90 day trial period if the placement didn't work out. Many of the children were essentially used as slave labor on farms and in factories, though some did find loving and stable homes. Kline's novel shines a light on that historical practice, by telling the story of Niamh, a 9-year old Irish immigrant girl orphaned when a fire destroyed her family's home and took the lives of her parents and siblings.

The story unfolds from the perspective of Vivian, a former orphan, now 91-years old, living alone in a mansion in Maine surrounded by her years of accumulated possessions and 17-year old Molly, a foster child who is shunted from one foster home to another when she doesn't fit in. Molly has been charged with a petty theft and is allowed to do 50 hours of community service instead of time in the juvenile detention facility. Her boyfriend, whose mother works for Vivian, recommends her as an assistant to the old woman to help her sort through the decades of stuff in her attic. During the process, Vivian's story unfolds and Molly learns that they have travelled similar paths, though 80 years apart. The novel alternates between the years of 1929 and early 1930's and 2011.

I was thoroughly engrossed by the story, right up until the end and there were some interesting plot developments for both characters. Both had lived through misery, degradation and squalor, and had survived it and become stronger. The relationship that developed between Vivian and Molly was admirable, though the development of Molly's character in the novel seemed a bit lacking. Some of the dialogue was rather unrealistic for a 17 year old. Additionally, the peripheral characters where very one-dimensional and stereotyped, such as the Grote's from whose home Vivian escaped, and the couple that is currently fostering Molly who are characterized as in it only for the money. The lack of complex characterization lead me to believe that this was more of a YA novel than one intended for a more mature audience.

I was quite annoyed that the Kindle file included a significant excerpt of the author's next novel, Sweet Water. The Orphan Train story ended when the file was at only 89%, leading me to believe that there was much more to follow in this interesting saga; but I turned the page and it was over! Fully 10% of the file was consumed with an excerpt of another novel. I felt a bit cheated that the Orphan Train ended so abruptly.

4.5 Stars !
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on May 12, 2017
While reading, I thought I missed something and that this was a young adult book. But it's not described as such. The book alternates from the childhood of an orphan (Vivian) in the 1930s to present day and the relationship a foster child (Molly) builds with Vivian. I really enjoyed reading about Vivian's trials and tribulations, but the chapters focusing on Molly seemed like they were written for young adult readers (which I am not). In my opinion, this would have been a much better book without the Molly chapters.
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