Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline
In Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train: A Novel, two women, with seemingly disparate lives, meet under a contrived situation and embark upon a journey of shared discovery. Each learns to see beneath surface impressions and discover deeply felt commonalties. As a young child, Vivian Daly had been scooped up out of 1929 New York tenement and sent west on a Depression era Orphan Train. These trains operated under the premise that finding orphaned or abandoned children new families in the country, where they could learn Christian values and the benefits of hard work, would allow them to grow-up to lead rich, fulfilled lives. Unfortunately, the adoption groups performed no background checks on prospective adopters, so the children were immediately at risk.
Some of the issues Vivian faced parallel those experienced by seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer, a contemporary girl trapped in the foster care system. Molly meets Vivian through a court mandated community service settlement which requires Molly to assist the 92 year old Vivian clear out her attic. The room turns out to be filled with more than clutter though, and gives the women time to reflect on their own turbulent pasts, their decisions; resilience, and second-chances.
I have seen an old 1979 movie called Orphan Train, with Jill Eikenberry and Kevin Dobson. I have also seen the 2006 American Experience – The Orphan Trains. Some of the scenes in Kline’s book reminded me of scenes in the 1979 movie. Other than finding out the trains ran until 1929, there was no real new information for a reader with even a cursory knowledge of the subject. The story is deftly plotted though, and moves smoothly between the two characters. I’d give it a qualified recommendation.
Bonus Video: Orphan Train Book Trailer