book review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The basics: Orphan Train is the story of two women and their unlikely friendship (if you want to run for the hills at the beginning of that description--hear me out.) Molly is almost eighteen, which means she is almost aging out of the foster care system. Desperate to have her own copy of her favorite book, she steals a copy of it from her school library. Her punishment is fifty hours of community service. Her boyfriend's mother, who works as a housekeeper for a 90-year-old-widow, arranges for Molly to help the woman, Vivian, go through the boxes in her attic. These boxes hold memories of the journeys of Vivian's life, when she was sent on the orphan train from New York City to Minnesota many years ago.

My thoughts: The reality of orphan trains depresses me. While I welcomed the chance to learn more about this dark part of U.S. history, I'm grateful Kline interspersed them with Molly's modern scenes. It also helped to know Vivian somehow not only survives but thrives. It would be easy for this story to come across as hokey, but Kline balances hope, the darkness of reality, and pain beautifully.

Admittedly, I was more captivated by Vivian's journey because it was so mysterious. As Vivian becomes a main character in the contemporary part of the story, I was thrilled. I'm fascinated by the wandering paths our lives take, and Vivian's is a majestic one.

The verdict: Orphan Train is an emotional read, and I sobbed through the last twenty pages. Kline makes the orphan train experience come alive through Vivian, and her joint portrayal of Molly's life in foster care is a sobering reality of how close we still are to that dark history.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: April 2, 2013
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Orphan Train from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Check out all the tour stops, visit Christina Baker Kline's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Now tell me: Have you read other novels by Christina Baker Kline? Which one should I read next?

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  1. I DNF'd this very early on but now you have me wondering if I should have kept on!

  2. So glad you liked this one! I enjoyed it very much.

  3. I think the entire book could have been about Vivian and I would have been okay with it.

  4. I'm glad to see that there's some hope and light in this book to overcome the sad reality of the orphan trains. I can't wait to read this book myself!

    Thanks for being on the tour.

  5. Vivian is definitely the best part of the book, but I love how Kline juxtaposed a current day orphan with an orphan from the Orphan Train long ago. I really liked this book! -


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