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Publisher's discussion guide

Christina Baker Kline answers top 10 book club questions
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The Book:

The Orphan Train is a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of "juvie" and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.


Orphan Train Accounts

The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America by Marilyn Holt. Examines how the system worked, based on institution records, newspaper stories, and firsthand accounts.

We Are A Part of History: The Story of the Orphan Trains by Michael Patrick. Firsthand accounts by riders, augmented with family photographs and documents.

Orphan Trains & Their Precious Cargo: The Life’s Work of Rev. H.D. Clarke by Clark Kidder. Based on scrapbooks kept by Chidren’s Aid Society agent Reverend Clarke, including photographs and facsimilies of advertising published by the society.

To Dakota and Back: The Story of an Orphan Train Rider by Judith Kappenman. John Donahue travels from South Boston to South Dakota and back, overcoming the pain of childhood loss, hardship and separation. Told by his granddaughter.

Orphan Train Riders:Their Own Stories, in four volumes compiled by Mary Ellen Johnson. First-hand accounts recorded at annual reunions, beginning in 1988.

Orphan Train Stories

Orphan Train by James Magnuson. Presents a series of encounters between the children and Midwestern farmers, preachers, hucksters and assorted characters reminiscent of True Grit.

Writing for the secular and Christian markets, Jane Peart authored more than 60 works of suspense, historical fiction, and romance. Titles in her Orphan Train West series are: Dreams of a Longing Heart, Homeward the Seeking Heart, Quest for Lasting Love, and The Heart’s Lonely Secret.

Gingham Mountain by Mary Connealy. From the Lassoed in Texas series, a determined schoolmarm attempts to protect orphan train children from the despicable Texas rancher who acquires them.

My Heart Remembers: A Novel by Kim Sawyer. United by blood, divided by time, will three orphan train siblings ever be reunited?

Christian fiction authors Al and Joanna Lacy pooled their talents to write the Orphan Train Trilogy. Titles include The Little Sparrows, All My Tomorrows, and Whispers in the Wind.

Stories About Foster Children

Y: A Novel by Marjorie Celona. A wise-beyond-her-years foster child is abandoned as a newborn on the doorstep of the local YMCA, yet defines life on her own terms.

The Language of Flowers: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. The story of a woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own past.

White Oleander: A Novel by Janet Fitch. When her mother is sent to prison, Astrid joins the thousands of foster children in Los Angeles. Navigating this new reality, she finds strength in her sense of self worth and her unfettered sense of the absurd.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel—a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah. After a string of foster homes and the death of her heroin-addict mother, Lexi Baill is taken in by a newly discovered great-aunt who lives a spartan life near Seattle. Lexi soon meets Mia and her loving twin brother, Zach. The friendship flourishes, and Mia's mother draws Lexi into the family circle. A slowly growing attraction between Zach and Lexi begins, but then Lexi, Mia, and Zach collectively make a bad decision that results in a tragedy with extreme repercussions.

Find Me by Romily Bernard. When a teen hacker and foster child finds a dead classmate’s diary on her front step, with a note reading “Find me,” she sets off to catch the killer.

Dead to You by Lisa McMann. Having been abducted at age seven, abandoned, a foster child, and homeless, Ethan, now 16, is happy to be home until his brother’s suspicion and his own inability to remember something unspeakable from his early childhood begin to tear the family apart.

Orphan Train Stories for Grades 4 and Up

Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting. In the late 1800s, Marianne travels westward on the Orphan Train in hopes of being placed in the care of a loving family. (Also appropriate for younger children)

Hank’s Story by Jane Buchanan. In 1923, twelve-year-old Hank and his older brother Peter travel on the Orphan Train from New York to Nebraska where they find a miserable existence living on a farm with a disagreeable and abusive couple whose only use for the brothers is as unpaid help.

Rodzina by Karen Cushman. A twelve-year-old Polish American girl is boarded onto an orphan train in Chicago with fears of traveling to the West and a life of unpaid slavery.

A Family Apart by Joan Lowery Nixon. When their mother can no longer support them, six siblings are sent by the Children’s Aid Society of New York to live with farm families in Missouri in 1860. (Orphan Train Adventures #1) Others include Caught in the Act, In the Face of Danger, A Dangerous Promise, Keeping Secrets, A Place to Belong and Circle of Love.

Lucy’s Wish by Joan Lowery Nixon. Ten-year-old Lucy, who wants a little sister more than anything, finds a very special one in the less than perfect family which she joins. (Orphan Train Children series #1) Others include Will's Choice and Aggie's Home.

Orphan Train Accounts for Grades 4 and Up

The Orphan Trains by Annette R Fry. Chronicles the Children's Aid Society effort to send orphaned city children West to free them from crime and poverty, showing how these children lived in their new surroundings.

Children of the Orphan Trains by Holly Littlefield. Historical photographs are the focus of this moving account as Littlefield fills in the history and personal stories with informative text and captions.

Orphan Trains to Missouri by Michael Patrick. Discusses the use of orphan trains to place orphaned or abandoned children in homes in 19th-century Missouri.

Orphan Trains: An Interactive History Adventure by Elizabeth Raum. Describes the people and events involved in the orphan trains. The reader’s choices reveal the historical details from the perspectives of a New York City newsboy, a child trying to keep his siblings together, and a child sent west on the baby trains.

Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story by Andrea Warren. Discusses the placement of over 200,000 orphaned or abandoned children by recounting the story of one boy and his brothers.

We Rode the Orphan Trains by Andrea Warren. Eight orphan train riders share their childhood experiences.

Makeshift Families

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. In a crumbling house in the remote northeastern Himalayas, an embittered, elderly judge finds his peaceful retirement turned upside down by the arrival of his orphaned granddaughter.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf. An unlikely extended family is formed when a high school teacher helps a pregnant student make a home with two elderly bachelor ranchers.

Heft by Liz Moore. Morbidly obese, 58-year-old shut-in Arthur Opp's only real contact with the outside world comes through his extended written correspondence with fellow misfit and former student Charlene Turner, 20 years his junior, in this story about overcoming shame and loneliness and learning to connect.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. At the turn of the 20th century in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a gentle solitary orchardist, tends to apples and apricots. Then two feral, pregnant girls and armed gunmen set him on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Twelve-year-old genius and outsider Willow Chance must figure out how to connect with other people and find a surrogate family for herself after her parents are killed in a car accident.

Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. In 1793 Philadelphia, 16-year-old Matilda Cook, separated from her sick mother, learns about perseverance and self-reliance when she is forced to cope with the horrors of a yellow fever epidemic.

Rural Depression-era Stories

A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock. Wrapped up in dreams of boys and marriage, 13-year-old Virginia Eide is brought back to a harsh reality when her uncle loses his job and his family is forced to move in with the Eides. Slightly resentful, Virginia doesn't fully understand why Jim can't just get another job. Visits to "Soo City," a housing camp for the homeless on the edge of their town, open Virginia's eyes.

An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood by Jimmy Carter. While reliving his experiences growing up on a Georgia farm during the Depression in the time of segregation, the former president shares the difficulties of farm life and profiles the people who shaped his life.

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. A school teacher remembers growing up in the heart of the Midwest during the Great Depression and describes life on an Iowa farm during a time of endless work, resourcefulness, family, kinship, and no tolerance for idleness or waste..

Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly. Losing his job and his family's home at the beginning of the Great Depression, Samuel, accompanied by his wife and two young children, hitchhikes to Illinois in search of work and finds work on an elderly woman's farm.

Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman. Illuminates, through memoirs, diaries, letters, and other firsthand accounts, the lives of American children affected by the economic and social changes of the Great Depression—including middle-class urban youth, migrant farm laborers, boxcar kids, and others.

A Long Way From Chicago: A Novel in Stories by Richard Peck. A boy recounts his annual summer trips to rural Illinois with his sister during the Great Depression to visit their larger-than-life grandmother

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. In a series of poems, 14-year-old Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family's wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression.

Immigrant Stories, New York City (1920s)

Empire Rising by Thomas Kelly. Follows the love story of an Irish immigrant and an artist told against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the construction of the Empire State Building.

North River by Pete Hamill. Tending to his poor and sick neighbors throughout a Depression-era winter, New York City doctor James Delaney is haunted by memories from World War I and the disappearances of his wife and daughter, until his three-year-old grandson is abandoned on his doorstep.

City of Orphans by Avi. An immigrant family tries to survive crime, poverty and corruption in 1893 New York City. Heroic deeds, narrow escapes, dastardly villains, amazing coincidences and a family rich in love and hope are all part of an intricate and entertaining adventure.

Second Chances

An Untamed Heart by Lauraine Snelling. After the loss of her first love, is Ingeborg Strand willing to marry a stranger--however kind--for the promise of a new life in America? (This work is a prequel to the Red River of the North series).

The Blossom Sisters by Fern Michaels. Swindled out of his home by his gold-digging wife, accountant Gus Hollister returns to his grandmother's Virginia farmhouse where he helps the residents of Blossom Farm expand their business and finds the courage to love again.

Here I Go Again: A Novel by Jen Lancaster. Lissy Ryder was the Mean Girl of her high school in suburban Chicago in 1991. In a whimsical twist on the Back to the Future scenario, this former bully returns to her high school days to right some wrongs.

Patron Saint of Lost Dogs: A Novel by Nick Trout. In this story, reminiscent of James Herriot’s works, Trout, a veterinary surgeon, tells the tale of Cyrus Mills who takes over his deceased father’s veterinary clinic.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs: A Novel by Anna Quindlen. Moving to a small country cabin, a once world-famous photographer bonds with a local man and begins to see the world around her in new, deeper dimensions.

Leaving Long Island—and Other Departures: A Memoir by Fern Kupfer. With a life experience that includes the loss of a child, the explosive end of a long marriage, and the discovery of a genetic inheritance endemic to the Ashkenazi Jewish population, this is a narrative of both pain and happy second chances.

Coming of Age

The Round House: A Novel by Louise Erdrich. Likely to be dubbed the Native American To Kill a Mockingbird, Louise Erdrich’s moving, complex, and surprisingly uplifting new novel tells of a boy’s coming of age in the wake of a brutal, racist attack on his mother.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Bestselling author Tartt gives us Theo Decker, a young boy in New York City who miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother, then walks a rocky course in life as he struggles to adjust to his new life.

Arcadia by Lauren Groff. In a haunting story of the American dream, Bit, born in a back-to-nature commune in late 1960’s New York State, must come to grips with the outside world when the commune eventually fails.

Girlchild: A Novel by Tupelo Hassman. Obsessively following the edicts of the Girls Scouts Handbook in spite of her lack of a troop, young Rory longs to escape the Reno trailer park where she lives with her bartender mother.

Joyland by Stephen King. Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of a summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.

More by Christina Baker Kline

Bird in Hand. It was an accident. It was dark, it was raining, Alison had only had two drinks. And the other car ran the stop sign. But Alison finds herself trapped under the crushing weight of grief and guilt.

Desire Lines. On the night of her high school graduation in 1986, Kathryn's best friend vanishes without a trace. Ten years later, while taking a hard look at her life, she delves into the mystery of what happened to her friend.

Sweet Water. This Southern literary saga and a psychological thriller recounts a daughter's search for the truth about her mother's death.

The Way Life Should Be. A 33-year-old event planner in New York City relocates to Maine in hopes of achieving success on her own terms.



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