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Upheaval and Resilience, Second Chances, and Unexpected Friendship…”Orphan Train”, by Christine Baker Kline

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In “Orphan Train” by Christine Baker Kline, readers are taken on a captivating journey that explores the themes of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship. The story follows the life of Vivian Daly, a young Irish immigrant who finds herself on an orphan train, traveling from the East coast to the Midwest, where her fate is uncertain. Years later, Molly Ayer, a teenager with a troubled past, discovers that she and Vivian share a similar history of being raised in foster homes. As the two delve into their shared past, they form a powerful bond that transcends time and allows them to find answers to their unanswered questions. “Orphan Train” is a poignant and heartwarming tale that sheds light on a forgotten chapter in American history, while also exploring the universal themes of family, resilience, and friendship.

Introduction to Orphan Train

Overview of the book

“Orphan Train” by Christine Baker Kline is a captivating novel that explores the themes of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship. The story revolves around two main characters, Vivian Daly and Molly Ayer, who come from different time periods but share parallel experiences.

Importance of the orphan trains in American history

The book sheds light on a little-known chapter in American history: the orphan trains that operated between 1854 and 1929. These trains transported thousands of children from the crowded cities of the East Coast to the Midwest, where they were either adopted into loving families or subjected to harsh working conditions. The orphan trains played a significant role in shaping the lives of these children and had a lasting impact on American society.

Main Characters

Vivian Daly

Vivian Daly, a young Irish immigrant, is the central character in the book. She was orphaned at a young age and sent on one of the orphan trains to the Midwest. Vivian’s story encompasses the challenges and experiences she faced in her new life, highlighting her resilience and determination to find her place in the world.

Molly Ayer

Molly Ayer, a seventeen-year-old girl, serves as the contemporary counterpart to Vivian Daly. She is on community service and is assigned to help an elderly widow clean out her attic. Through this task, Molly discovers her connection to Vivian and the shared experiences they both had in foster care. Molly’s story provides a modern lens through which the reader can understand the historical significance of the orphan train movement.

Vivian Daly’s Story

Early life in Ireland

Vivian’s journey begins in Ireland, where she lived with her family. However, tragedy struck, and she was left orphaned at a young age. This loss marked the beginnings of her tumultuous journey to come.

Orphaned and sent on the orphan train

After her parents’ death, Vivian was sent on one of the orphan trains that transported children to the Midwest. Stripped away from her homeland and everything familiar, Vivian embarked on a journey into the unknown, unsure of her fate and what lay ahead for her.

Challenges and experiences in the Midwest

Vivian’s experiences in the Midwest exposed her to challenges she had never anticipated. From harsh working conditions to the uncertainty of finding a loving family, Vivian had to navigate a harsh reality while remaining resilient in the face of adversity.

Molly Ayer’s Story

Community service job and attic discovery

Molly Ayer’s story takes place in contemporary times. She is ordered to complete community service and is assigned to assist an elderly widow named Vivian Daly in cleaning out her attic. Little did Molly know that this task would lead her on a journey of self-discovery and a profound connection to the past.

Parallel experiences in foster care

As Molly delves into Vivian’s past through the items stored in the attic, she uncovers striking similarities between their lives. Both Molly and Vivian have experienced the foster care system and the challenges of being raised by strangers. This realization connects the two characters on a deep level, making their friendship all the more unexpected and meaningful.

Parallel Narratives

Switching between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota

The narrative in “Orphan Train” alternates between Molly’s story in present-day Maine and Vivian’s experiences during the Great Depression in Minnesota. This dual narrative style allows readers to compare and contrast the challenges faced by the two characters and gain a deeper understanding of the historical context surrounding the orphan train movement.

Themes Explored

Identity and belonging

“Orphan Train” delves into the themes of identity and belonging. Both Vivian and Molly struggle with their sense of self and grapple with questions about where they come from and where they belong. Through their stories, the novel explores the importance of finding one’s identity and the search for a place to call home.

Family and roots

The book explores the themes of family and roots, focusing on the significance of these connections in one’s life. Vivian and Molly both have complicated relationships with their families and experience the longing to understand their roots. Their journeys highlight the importance of family bonds and the desire to uncover the truth about one’s origins.

Loss and resilience

Loss and resilience are central themes in “Orphan Train.” Both Vivian and Molly have experienced significant losses and have had to summon incredible resilience to overcome the challenges that life has thrown at them. The novel portrays the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to endure and thrive in the face of adversity.

Historical Context

Overview of the orphan train movement

The orphan train movement was a significant part of American history between 1854 and 1929. These trains transported orphaned children from densely populated cities on the East Coast to rural towns and farms in the Midwest. The movement aimed to find these children new families and opportunities for a better life.

Impacts on the lives of children

The orphan train movement had a profound impact on the lives of the children involved. While some found loving homes and supportive families, others faced exploitation and mistreatment. The movement played a key role in shaping the lives and futures of countless children, both positively and negatively.

Criticism and controversies

The orphan train movement was not without its controversies. Critics argued that it fractured family connections and disrupted children’s lives without proper consideration for their emotional well-being. The movement has since been viewed as a complex and controversial chapter in American history, raising questions about the ethics of child relocation.

Friendship and Connection

Bonding between Vivian and Molly

“Orphan Train” explores the unexpected friendship that blossoms between Vivian and Molly. Despite their different backgrounds and time periods, the two characters form a deep bond rooted in shared experiences and a mutual understanding of loss and resilience. Their friendship becomes a source of support and strength as they navigate their respective journeys.

Support and mentorship

Vivian, as an older character, acts as a mentor and source of guidance for Molly. Through her life experiences, Vivian imparts wisdom and guidance to Molly, helping her navigate her own challenges and uncover her personal truth.

Shared experiences and understanding

The shared experiences of Vivian and Molly create a profound understanding between them. They both know the pain of being separated from their families and the struggles of navigating the foster care system. This shared understanding allows them to relate to one another and provide the support they both long for.

Conclusion and Impact

Reflection on the power of storytelling

“Orphan Train” showcases the power of storytelling in connecting people and bringing forgotten history to life. Through the art of storytelling, the book sheds light on the orphan train movement and its impact on the lives of countless children. The novel demonstrates how storytelling can bridge gaps between generations and provide a medium for understanding and empathy.

Exploring forgotten history

The book invites readers to explore a forgotten chapter in American history that is rarely taught or discussed. By shining a spotlight on the orphan train movement, “Orphan Train” highlights the importance of understanding and learning from the past. It encourages readers to delve into history to gain a deeper appreciation for the struggles and resilience of those who came before.

Inspiration for resilience and empathy

“Orphan Train” serves as an inspiration for resilience and empathy. The book showcases the strength of the human spirit and the ability to overcome adversity. Through the characters of Vivian and Molly, the novel encourages readers to cultivate empathy and understanding for others, particularly those who have experienced loss and upheaval. It serves as a reminder that second chances and unexpected friendships can have a profound impact on our lives.


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