Book Review: Orphan Train

Who here knew orphan trains were a thing?  I, for one, had no idea that through the 1920s, the Children’s Aid Society transported hundreds of thousands of orphaned children from busy Northeastern cities to the rural Midwest in the hopes of giving them new lives.  The idea was that children would have a better chance of living a productive life if raised by a family instead of in a group home.

When Niamh, an Irish immigrant, finds herself alone in the world, she is placed on one such train and transported to Minnesota where she and other children are placed on a stage and inspected by families in a scene reminiscent of a slave auction.  In fact, she and other children are chosen more for indentured servitude than as a completion to any family.  Her life is less than easy and she sees the bad side of the Great Depression before finding a quiet life that seems adequate but lacking in passion.  As a 91 year old, she shares her story with Molly, a troubled foster teen in whom she finds similarities.

Christina Baker Kline’s novel explores the weight of abandonment and the grit that ripens in its wake.  As the past is finally discussed, both women find a way toward a second chance.

orphan train

4 out of 5 stars.