260 reviews

Orphan Train: A Novel
by Christina Baker Kline

Published: 2013-04-02
Paperback : 278 pages
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Orphan Train is a gripping story of friendship and second chances from Christina Baker Kline, author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be.Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean...
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Orphan Train is a gripping story of friendship and second chances from Christina Baker Kline, author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be.

Penobscot 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.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.



I believe in ghosts. They're the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. On the surface, Vivian's and Molly's lives couldn't be more different. In what ways are their stories similar?

2. In the prologue Vivian mentions that her "true love" died when she was 23, but she doesn't mention the other big secret in the book. Why not?

3. Why hasn't Vivian ever shared her story with anyone? Why does she tell it now?

4. What role does Vivian's grandmother play in her life? How does the reader's perception of her shift as the story unfolds?

5. Why does Vivian seem unable to get rid of the boxes in her attic?

6. In Women of the Dawn, a nonfiction book about the lives of four Wabanaki Indians excerpted in the epigraph, Bunny McBride writes: "In portaging from one river to another, Wabanakis had to carry their canoes and all other possessions. Everyone knew the value of traveling light and understood that it required leaving some things behind. Nothing encumbered movement more than fear, which was often the most difficult burden to surrender." How does the concept of portaging reverberate throughout this novel? What fears hamper Vivian's progress? Molly's?

7. Vivian's name changes several times over the course of the novel: from Niamh Power to Dorothy Nielsen to Vivian Daly. How are these changes significant for her? How does each name represent a different phase of her life?

8. What significance, if any, does Molly Ayer's name have?

9. How did Vivian's first-person account of her youth and the present-day story from Molly's third-person-limited perspective work together? Did you prefer one story to the other? Did the juxtaposition reveal things that might not have emerged in a traditional narrative?

10. In what ways, large and small, does Molly have an impact on Vivian's life? How does Vivian have an impact on Molly's?

11. What does Vivian mean when she says, "I believe in ghosts"?

12. When Vivian finally shares the truth about the birth of her daughter and her decision to put May up for adoption she tells Molly that she was "selfish" and "afraid." Molly defends her and affirms Vivian's choice. How did you perceive Vivian's decision? Were you surprised she sent her child to be adopted after her own experiences with the Children's Aid Society?

13. When the children are presented to audiences of potential caretakers, the Children's Aid Society explains adoptive families are responsible for the child's religious upbringing. What role does religion play in this novel? How do Molly and Vivian each view God?

14. When Vivian and Dutchy are reunited she remarks, "However hard I try, I will always feel alien and strange. And now I've stumbled on a fellow outsider, one who speaks my language without saying a word." How is this also true for her friendship with Molly?

15. When Vivian goes to live with the Byrnes Fanny offers her food and advises, "You got to learn to take what people are willing to give." In what ways is this good advice for Vivian and Molly? What are some instances when their independence helped them?

16. Molly is enthusiastic about Vivian's reunion with her daughter, but makes no further efforts to see her own mother. Why is she unwilling or unable to effect a reunion in her own family? Do you think she will someday?

17. Vivian's Claddagh cross is mentioned often throughout the story. What is its significance? How does its meaning change or deepen over the course of Vivian's life?

Suggested by Members

Did the American Aid Society pay a one-time fee for people to take the children?
Were the American Aid Society held accountable for the abuse that the children suffered?
by Renae2014 (see profile) 02/28/15

Why did Vivian gave away her baby?
Relate the Orphan Train process with Foster Family process.
by texschutz (see profile) 02/07/15

Why do you think Vivian gave her baby up for adoption when she had such a struggle as an orphan?
Molly developed a close relationship with Vivian which was beautiful why do you think that happened.
How does the immigration of the Irish compare with the immigration debates we are having today?
by kedothard (see profile) 02/01/15

Child welfare in general, adopted children and inability to be loved, Why people hold on to "stuff."
by Conchogirl (see profile) 01/23/15

Discuss Vivian's pregnancy and what happens afterward.
by avitale (see profile) 11/11/14

Vivian kept boxes of old items that reminded her of good and bad memories. Such as the gold coat. Do you keep items that evoke good memories? Bad memories? Why would you keep something that reminded you of something unpleasant that occured in your life?
Could you see The Orphan Train made into a movie? Who do you see playing the various roles? Would you make any changes to the story?
by kevbriril3 (see profile) 11/03/14

I used the authors qustions, why not...
by PReader (see profile) 09/23/14

What would you bring in your Canoe?
by lizblair (see profile) 09/22/14

Which character in the book had the most influence on Vivian's life?
by mopsickmom (see profile) 07/10/14

What was the prejudice against light skin, red hair, and freckles and how this was used against a child who had no control over being born this way & how this effected events in her life?
by wendywedde (see profile) 06/27/14

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

the orphan train
by khartleb (see profile) 02/27/15
great book

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by KarinP (see profile) 03/04/15

  "Orphan Train"by karol (see profile) 03/04/15

I was unaware of this part of our history. I loved how the author weaved the story between the two main characters and brought the reader to realize what an important yet eventful time in America.

  "Orphan Train"by Renae2014 (see profile) 02/28/15

We learned a lot of history about orphans and how they placed in the great migration in general and the American Aid Society specifically. The different world view points of how a 91-year old versus a... (read more)

by ggmom (see profile) 02/28/15

by Gaylecs (see profile) 02/27/15

by rogue (see profile) 02/27/15

  "The orphan train"by khartleb (see profile) 02/27/15

I had no idea that the orphan trains existed, so it was very informative which made it a quick read for me.

by 125kirven (see profile) 02/22/15

  "Orphan Train"by TXCOLITCHICK (see profile) 02/19/15

I had never heard of the orphan trains prior to reading the book. Now, I want to visit the museum in Concordia KS.

by MrsLee (see profile) 02/19/15

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