“From 1854 to 1929 an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children were placed throughout the United States and Canada during the Orphan Train Movement” -National Orphan Train Complex
If you’re looking for an interesting book that is not a huge time commitment, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a good choice. It’s considered historical fiction, although the history parts, while fascinating, are limited. I began the novel knowing nothing about the orphan trains that ran from cities to the countryside carrying loads of children in the decades before the depression and finished it wanting to know more.
Orphan Train is the type of book that stimulates your curiosity without pulling you into a dense read that takes weeks to finish.
The story alternates between the point of view of Molly (present day), an orphan cleaning out 91 year-old Vivian’s attic in order to stay out of “juvie,” and Vivian (1920s and 1930s), an Irish immigrant put on an orphan train bound for Minneapolis in search of a new home. Molly and Vivian form a strong bond over the course of the novel, as Molly and us readers find out more about Vivian’s history. I still don’t love Molly, but she definitely started to grow on me as the relationship between the two women becomes one in which both provide help to each other, rather than just a one-way give-take.
Overall, Orphan Train really is a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a couple minor issues. I would have enjoyed more information about the orphan train riders to have been weaved into the story line. Additionally, the story started off a little slow. It picks up a few chapters in, but I have to say that I enjoyed the parts set in the past a lot more than the ones that were present day.
I’d say, give it a chance. It’s not life changing, but it is thought provoking and light for a book that tackles some important topics.
Why I picked it up: I had never heard of orphan trains and was curious to read a book that addressed a relatively unknown but seemingly important part of our history.
Why I finished it: Vivian’s story is captivating and I wanted to know how thing’s turned out for her.
Who I’d recommend it to: It seems like the kind of book anyone interested in history or learning something new would find engaging and enjoyable. It’s probably more appealing to female readers than males, but not necessarily.
If you’re interested in more information on the history of the orphan train riders click here for the site I looked at after reading the book. There are more links on that page as well.