Christina Baker Kline’s latest novel, ORPHAN TRAIN, introduces readers to Vivian Daly, a now-90-year-old woman who has had a chaotic past --- from her difficult childhood in Ireland to her turbulent adulthood Midwest. This story specifically documents the “orphan trains” that transported more than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children to the Midwest for indentured servitude. Those of you who read THE CHAPERONE, another Bookreporter.com Bets On selection, will remember that its plot touched on the orphan trains. It left me wanting to hear more about it, which made this book even more of a delight. Christina did very extensive research, which authenticates her characters.
While the historical piece of this story is what drew me in, what really makes the book hum is the way it dovetails back and forth from the past to the present. In the modern story, Molly Ayer is aging out of the foster care system. When she takes on a community service project to help Vivian clean out her house, these two very different women are thrown together and their relationship evolves into a friendship. Their shared secrets and the way their loves come together give this book a lot of heart…and soul. And as I often say with books that I select as Bets On titles, this would make for a terrific book group discussion. It’s also a wonderful teen crossover title and would be great for those who know little (like I did) about the Orphan Train Movement.