Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is about two intertwining stories. Reading this novel, I split my time between 2011 and the 1920s to 1930s. In 2011, the book focuses on young Molly, a foster child who ends up stealing a book from the library and is forced into community service instead of going to juvenile detention. When we visit the past, we are watching Niamh go through hell after losing her family and getting on a train with numerous other orphaned children. Their fates? It was basically a game of chance. A child could end up in an amazing and loving new home. However, a child could just as well end up as free labour, beaten, assaulted, or only wanted for a stipend of money… It would be impossible to tell what a child’s life would be like until it was too late to change it.
Before I finished reading this book, I had no idea that the trains filled with orphaned children were a part of history. Of course, this specific story is not true, but from what I gather, there are many stories that will probably sound similar. I am actually fascinated by this bit of history now. I am not sure how I should be feeling about it. On one hand, these children clearly need homes, but then again…at what price? It makes me glad that there is a little more screening when it comes to adopting children today.
I think my favourite parts of the book were all surrounding the 1920s and 1930s. Watching the progress and wondering how or even if young Niamh would survive was quite attention grabbing. Seeing her journey on the train and afterwards…oh dear girl.
There was one part in the book that really hit me. I cannot reveal all of it, of course, because I want to see if it will hit other people when they read this book, However, what I can say is that while I was reading it, my brain was almost yelling at some of the characters about why they did not seem to believe. Why would this be a lie? What is there to gain?
I will admit that I was not all that connected to the story in 2011 when I first started reading it. However, once I began putting a few of the pieces together, it began to get a bit more interesting. I was still more interested in the historical side of the story, but even 2011 connected to that in an interesting and fun way. Besides, there was one part of the ending to the story that seemed to play out like a fairytale, and yet it seemed like this is also something that happens all the time. You will know it when you read it, I imagine.
I definitely think that this book is worth your time. I highly encourage you to purchase this book at your local bookstore or check this book out from the library. This book is worth the discussion. The history of the orphan trains is worth the discussion.
Title: Orphan Train: A Novel
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins)