The 2016 Big Read - Orphan Train

Last Updated: Friday, 16 September 2016

OrphanTrainAbout the Book


Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City in the 1920s, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, 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 second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

About the Author, Christina Baker Klineauthor


Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels, including the #1 New York Times bestselling Orphan Train. Her other novels include Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines and Sweet Water. She is currently at work on a novel (due out in Winter 2017) based on the iconic painting Christina's World, by Andrew Wyeth.

In addition to her five novels, Kline has written and edited five nonfiction books. She commissioned and edited two widely praised collections or original essays on the first year of parenthood and raising young children, Child of Mine and Room to Grow, and a book on grieving, Always Too Soon. She is the coeditor, with Anne Burt, of a collection of personal essays called About Face: Women Write About What They See When They Look in the Mirror, and is co-author, with her mother, Christina Looper Baker, of a book on feminist mothers and daughters, The Conversation Begins. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Money, More, Psychology Today, among other places.

Kline was born in Cambridge, England, and raised there, as well as in the American South and Maine. She is a graduate of Yale, Cambridge, and the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow in Fiction Writing. She has taught fiction and nonfiction writing, poetry, English literature, literary theory, and women’s studies at Yale, NYU, and Drew University, and served as Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University for four years. She is a recipient of several Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowships and Writer-in-Residence Fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She supports a number of libraries and other associations in New Jersey and Maine, and is a member of the Advisory Board for Roots & Wings, a nonprofit that provides support for at-risk adolescent and aged-out foster care youth.

Kline lives in an old house in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, David Kline, and three sons, Hayden, Will, and Eli.  She spends as much time as possible in an even older house in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

(text from http://christinabakerkline.com/contact/bio/)

Book and Author Resources

Author’s Website - Author’s Facebook - Author’s Twitter - Official Page for Orphan Train - Official Book Trailer - The Story Behind the Writing of Orphan Train

Christina Answers the Top Ten Questions Book Clubs Ask About Orphan Train (*SPOILERS*):

  1. How close are the events you describe in the novel to real life?  (00:19)
  2. Did situations like the Grotes' home really exist? (01:19)
  3. Was it common for train riders to keep their experiences secret? (02:35)
  4. How did most train riders ultimately feel about having been put on a train? (03:50)
  5. Did the research for this book give you a bleak perspective of human nature? (05:48)
  6. Why did you write a novel – and not nonfiction -- about the orphan trains? (07:47)
  7. Did you know everything that would happen in the novel when you started, or did you change things as you went along? (09:00)
  8. Why did Maisie have to die? (10:57)
  9. Why didn't you show the reunion between Vivian and Sarah? (11:58)
  10. And finally … the question every book club asks: Why did Vivian give away her daughter? (13:28)

National Orphan Train Complex (Museum and Research Center):

National Orphan Train Complex FAQ


Author Christina Baker Kline visits for Big Read Kickoff Event

picsDelve into a good book this spring and participate with your friends and neighbors in the Big Read. Book discussions and other programs focusing on the novel, Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline, are taking place across the Miami Valley through April 16. This book was chosen by popular vote to be the Miami Valley’s Big Read selection.

The relocation of thousands of orphaned or abandoned children from 1854-1929 forms the basis for Orphan Train, which tells the story of an elderly woman’s past as one of these relocated children, and her unexpected friendship with a contemporary teen who is aging out of the foster care system.

“The Big Read allows us to discuss and celebrate a really good book together,” said Jennifer Spillman, co-chair of the Big Read committee. “It gives us a chance, as a collective whole, to fall in love with the same characters from the same story at the same time.”

#1 NY Times Bestseller

“Absorbing... a heartfelt page-turner” – Publishers Weekly

“A compelling story about loss, adaptability, and courage” – Library Journal

“Kline draws a dramatic, emotional story from a neglected corner of American history.” - Kirkus Reviews

“A long journey from home and the struggle to find it again form the heart of the intertwined stories that make up this moving novel. Kline illuminates a largely hidden chapter of American history, while portraying the coming-of-age of two resilient young women.” – Booklist


The True History of Orphan Trains

In the mid-19th century, children in poverty roamed the streets of New York in search of food and shelter. Charles Loring Brace was horrified by their plight and in 1853, he founded the Children’s Aid Society. He believed that work, education and a strong family life could help these children develop into self-reliant citizens. Between 1854-1929, the CAS sent more than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children by train to the Midwest for adoption. Many did find loving homes, and many did not.

This relocation of children ended in the 1920s with the beginning of the organized foster care system in America. Brace himself was torn: "When a child of the streets stands before you in rags, with a tear-stained face, you cannot easily forget him. And yet, you are perplexed what to do. The human soul is difficult to interfere with. You hesitate how far you should go."

See the PBS "American Experience" Documentary on the Orphan Trains
Monday, April 4, 7:00- 8:30 p.m. West Carrollton Branch Library