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Orphan Train Girl

Review

Orphan Train Girl

ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL is the Young Readers’ Edition of Christina Baker Kline’s bestselling hit, ORPHAN TRAIN. In both books, a young orphan named Molly makes a series of bad choices resulting in community service. Rather than picking up trash by the highway, however, Molly is assigned with helping an elderly woman clean out her home, sorting through her possessions and memories as they clean. As Molly learns more about Vivian’s past, she comes to realize that she has more in common with the elderly woman than she ever thought possible, and that family is defined by more than blood.

"With rich details and a heartfelt storyline that young history-lovers will adore, ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL is a terrific addition to children’s literature."

While the narratives of both editions are mostly similar, Molly has been aged down to a sixth grader in the young readers’ edition, making her more relatable to middle grade readers. Without the fear of “aging out” of the foster care system, Molly has a different conflict: learning to accept her current home and guardians as they have accepted her.  

When Molly is first assigned with helping 91-year-old Vivian clean out her attic, she is happy to have avoided a harsher sentence, but believes her time with Vivian will be boring and awkward. When she meets Vivian, however, she is delightfully keen and chatty for an old woman. After asking about Molly’s orphan status, she mysteriously remarks that she is an orphan too, in a sense.

The narrative in ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL then alternates between Molly and Vivian in the present day and the story of Vivian’s past. Originally named Niamh, Vivian immigrated to the United States from Ireland with her parents and three siblings. There was a terrible fire in their New York City apartment, however, and no one but Niamh survived. Cast aside by her neighbors, Niamh is sent across the country on an orphan train. These trains carried children to adoptive families for 75 years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the start of the Great Depression.

As the storylines begin to converge, Molly decides to focus on Vivian’s story for a school social studies project. When she begins to investigate on her own, however, she learns that there is more to Vivian’s story than even she knows. Older readers and those who have already read ORPHAN TRAIN will easily predict the outcome of her findings. Still, Kline keeps an even hand, doling out little hints here and there so that younger readers can discover the mystery themselves.

I am typically wary of books that have been adapted for young readers, as I feel that they often cut out too much historical detail in favor of lighter stories with more educational themes. ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL was a delightful surprise in this regard, as it maintained all of the powerful history of its original version while making the story accessible for younger readers. With rich details and a heartfelt storyline that young history-lovers will adore, ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL is a terrific addition to children’s literature. I can see numerous mothers and daughters reading this book and ORPHAN TRAIN together to learn more about love, family and our nation’s deep history.

Reviewed by Audrey Slater on May 22, 2017

Orphan Train Girl
by Christina Baker Kline