Book Review: Orphan Train

4 Dec

timthumb.phpPenobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse…

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.


1Christina Baker Kline is a novelist, nonfiction writer and editor. In addition to the #1 New York Times bestselling Orphan Train, her novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines and Sweet Water. She served as Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University from 2007 to 2011 and was an on-staff editor and writing coach at the social networking site

Kline is coeditor, with Anne Burt, of a collection of personal essays called About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror. She also commissioned and edited two widely praised collections of original essays on the first year of parenthood and raising young children, Child of Mine and Room to Grow. She is co-author, with her mother, Christina Looper Baker, of a book on feminist mothers and daughters, The Conversation Begins. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in San Francisco Chronicle, the Literarian, Coastal Living, More, Psychology Today, and others. Kline is currently at work on a literature anthology for Facing History & Ourselves and a novel based on the iconic painting Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth.

Kline was born in Cambridge, England, and raised there as well as in the American South and Maine. She is a graduate of Yale, Cambridge, and the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow in Fiction Writing. In addition to Fordham, she has taught fiction and nonfiction writing, poetry, English literature, literary theory, and women’s studies at Yale, New York University, and Drew University. She is a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship, a Writer-in-Residence Fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a Fordham Faculty Research Grant. She donates her time and editing skills to a number of organizations in New Jersey and Maine, including Volunteer Lawyers for Justice

Kline has worked as a caterer, cook, and personal chef on the Maine coast, Martha’s Vineyard, and in Charlottesville, Virginia. She lives in an old house in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, David Kline, and three boys, Hayden, Will, and Eli. She spends summers with extended family in an even older house on Mount Desert Island in Maine.


My Impressions:

I chose the audiobook version of Orphan Train because I had read so many favorable reviews from a number of bloggers I follow. It was certainly a great choice for my morning walks. It kept me engaged, and the miles flew by. A wonderful account of a little known, but important part of early 20th century American history, Orphan Train touched my heart as it entertained and educated.

Molly is a foster child about to age out of the system. She has been in so many homes and endured so many things, that she keeps others at arm’s length. It is painful to lose people and places so quickly. After stealing a beat up copy of Jane Eyre from the local library, she comes to work for Vivian, a 90-something woman with a past full of loss. What begins as a way to fulfill community service, connects Molly to something outside herself and Vivian with a future that transcends her past.

Christina Baker Kline has a true gift. Her writing style flows. Orphan Train is full of story telling magic that suits an audiobook well. (The reader did a great job with timing and the characters’ voices.)  Kline also does a great job of connecting two very dissimilar characters — a 17 year old foster kid with just a few personal items to call her own and a 90 year old woman who lives in a mansion with an attic stuffed with memories and keepsakes. Molly is a likable character, but it is Vivian that gives life to this novel. Her journey from the slums of New York in 1929 to the small towns of Minnesota to her mansion by the sea is incredible. Full of loss, love and abuse, Orphan Train had me laughing, crying and hoping for a better future for Molly and Vivian.

Orphan Train is not a Christian novel. It contains some adult situations and a fair amount of profanity, mostly from Molly. But it is such a powerful story, that I can highly recommend it with the stated qualifications. It is also a perfect choice for a book club.

Highly Recommended (with the qualifier of profanity).

Audience: adults.

(I purchased this audiobook from Audible. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

To purchase this book, click on the image below.

6 Responses to “Book Review: Orphan Train”

  1. Susan@ Reading World December 6, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    I’m glad you enjoyed this book. I really did too. We read it with our book club and it led to a wonderful discussion.

    • rbclibrary December 6, 2014 at 11:06 am #

      I was thinking this would be a great book club book too. Great topics and lots of history to explore. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Connie December 6, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    I am glad to know this book works well on audio – not all books do. I am adding it to my reading list for January. I appreciate your review and the honest warning about profanity. I won’t be listening in the car with my children 🙂 Thanks for sharing on Semicolonblog.

    • rbclibrary December 6, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

      Enjoy it! And thanks for stopping by my blog!

  3. kelly @kellyblackwell December 7, 2014 at 11:01 pm #

    Adding this to my audio list. I love a book to listen to when I am at the gym. Thanks!

    • rbclibrary December 8, 2014 at 7:21 am #

      You are welcome. Enjoy it! It sure made the miles go by quickly.

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