Between the Lines: Orphan Train

Feb 19, 2016

Credit William Morrow/Harper Collins

Orphans and abandoned children — who wants them? Between 1854 and 1929, trains filled with these children traveled from the East Coast across the Midwest, stopping at towns and cities along the way. At each station the children were paraded out onto the platform, offered up for the taking by anyone who would have them. Many became domestic servants, or worse. Only a few became true members of their adoptive families.


In her book Orphan Train (William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2013), a New York Times bestseller, Christina Baker Kline describes in heartrending detail the lives of these lost children during a little-known period in American history. With 91-year-old Irish immigrant Vivian Daly, Kline develops a colorful character who tells the story of a girl who undergoes the horrors of that train ride, being picked by family after family, experiencing abuse and molestation. But, eventually, her story takes a more positive turn.

As an old woman, Daly meets 17-year-old Molly Ayer. Their stories are juxtaposed in time but they increasingly manage to find unexpected things they have in common. Molly is a product of the modern-day foster care system. In Orphan Train, Kline uses one character to expose an ugly era of American history. The other raises awareness of both the good and the bad in our current foster care system.

Christina Baker Kline
Credit Karin Diana

Researching the book, Kline interviewed surviving train riders who today are in their nineties. She also became a member of the advisory board at Roots & Wings, a nonprofit that provides support for at-risk adolescents and foster care kids who "age out" of the system.

Orphan Train is the Kalamazoo Public Library's Reading Together selection for 2016. Reading Together encourages the community to read the same book at the same time, and then gather for events that delve deeper into the book as well as meeting its author.

Kline will visit Kalamazoo on Monday, March 7, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Kalamazoo Central High School auditorium on Drake Road. The Kalamazoo Public Library has many events and workshops planned around Kline’s visit.

Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels. She lives outside of New York City and on the coast of Maine.

Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.