348 reviews

Orphan Train: A Novel
by Christina Baker Kline

Published: 2013-04-02
Paperback : 278 pages
299 members reading this now
785 clubs reading this now
242 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 341 of 348 members
The #1 New York Times Bestseller
Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train is an unforgettable story of friendship and second chances that highlights a little-known but historically significant movement in America’s past—and it includes a special PS section for book clubs featuring insight
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The #1 New York Times Bestseller

Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train is an unforgettable story of friendship and second chances that highlights a little-known but historically significant movement in America’s past—and it includes a special PS section for book clubs featuring insights, interviews, and more.

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 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

Why did she steal Jane Eyre. What did it mean to her?
Compare the foster care system of today to the placement of children from the orphan trains.
by jemathomp (see profile) 05/04/16

by kehaulani (see profile) 02/16/16

by Suederms (see profile) 11/05/15

Even though some rules were set up to follow the lives of these children--going to school,being cared for none of them were employed. The children were essentially indentured slaves who were severly abused.
Foolish items about the children were used against them, such as their hair coloring, religion, and ages.
The people who took in these children were self-serving and indifferent for the most part.
by robinweiss (see profile) 07/28/15

by jaswift (see profile) 07/22/15

Foster care then versus now
by Thebookclub15 (see profile) 07/07/15

by 121942 (see profile) 04/30/15

How does the fate of these orphans compare to the "street" children and runaways of today? Which group is better off in the long run?
by Eileenbeach (see profile) 04/11/15

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

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Lively Discussion
by jemathomp (see profile) 05/04/16
Our group had a long discussion about foster care. Many in our group were not familiar with this piece of history so there were many questions , particularly about the reasoning behind it. We began our meeting with blueberry peach pie-- to honor the Maine setting.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by alanna (see profile) 05/17/16

  "Great discussion"by lovebuster (see profile) 05/16/16

There was good character development and the story line kept my interest. This novel provided a great discussion for our book club.

  "The Orphan Train"by markokopp1 (see profile) 05/12/16

This is a book many of us read in one sitting because we couldn't put it down. However, we noticed some significant flaws that didn't interfere with our reading, but were still flaws. For instance, the... (read more)

  "Orphan Train: A Novel"by Soovie (see profile) 05/10/16

I really enjoyed this novel, inspired by actual events in our country's history. The more I read about our historical events, the more I realize that, in school, history is completely white-... (read more)

by smknollenberg (see profile) 05/08/16

  "The Orphan Train"by jemathomp (see profile) 05/04/16

The novel is based on a historic event that occurred over a period if years in the early twentieth century. Children from New York City and other major east coast cities who were considered to be orphaned... (read more)

by mneuburger (see profile) 04/22/16

  "Orphan Train: A Novel"by nflanagan (see profile) 04/21/16

Great book with plenty of discussion topics!

  "Orphan Train"by hans22 (see profile) 03/28/16

Excellent book based on actual history though written as a novel.

by donnacreamer (see profile) 03/28/16

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