Review: "Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Kline

  • Posted on: 19 April 2015
  • By: TedG

Submitted by Adrian

We met last night at the Rivers Eatery to discuss the Orphan Train by C.B. Kline. In attendance were John, Monte, Angelo, Ed, Ron, and Adrian. We all really like the book and gave it high marks, and we all agreed we would read another book by the author, even Monte who had not read this book. We were all surprised that such a thing occurred and were interested in more of the history of the orphan train. The Orphan Train was almost a condoned system of servitude or slavery that was supposed to be outlawed in this country in 1863. Ron indicated that Irv Berlin has an older friend from the Mason area who had been from an orphan train. It would have been great to have had them at this meeting. (Post-script: Irv writes, " I knew a man that was adopted off an orphan train and lived in the town of Lincoln here is Bayfield County. Unfortunately I never learned his full story and he has since passed away. ... I have a friend who is somewhat of an historian on Lincoln township and I will question her if she has information on him.")

Kline does a great job in her development of characters and creating an interesting plot. The parallel stories of Molly in modern times dealing with being a foster child, and contrasted with Niamh being a child of the Orphan Train was really interesting. It is apparent the life of an orphan/foster child can be difficult regardless of when it occurs. I hope I am not giving away too much of the plot, but we liked the development of the relationship with the old woman Vivian/Niamh  with young Gothic Molly, which was nicely developed through the story and leads to pleasant outcomes for both characters. I guess as a group having read of the difficulties of Black Americans in “The Great Migration”, and ordeals of Native American sent to Indian Boarding Schools, the difficulties and challenges of children sent off on an Orphan Train should not be too surprising.

I found some of the aspect of the story very interesting on a personal basis. Like Niamh, I first saw New York City as a 7-year-old when my family immigrated to the US from Holland, although it would have been 30 years later. We also took the train from New York to Chicago, and changed trains in Chicago to catch one going to Appleton, Wisconsin.

We could not find any negatives to the book. Me being a stickler for biological details, I did question whether wild turkeys would have been present in northern Minnesota in the 1920s. Wild turkeys apparently disappeared from Minnesota in the late 1800s. But I looked up turkey restoration efforts in Minnesota, and apparently a reintroduction of game farm turkeys was attempted in 11 counties in the 1920s. So it is possible Gerald Grote could have shot some turkeys. But all these turkeys eventually died off and it was not until wild turkeys were released in Minnesota in the 1970s the turkeys successfully returned to the state.

Readability (including emailed votes from Irv, Ted, and Jack): 4.6

Interest: 4.8

Would you read another book by this author: Everyone said Yes.