Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

When my sweet, funny friend Jamie recommended this book, I knew I had to read it immediately. I picked it up at our local bookstore (Subterranean Books, which offers a frequent buyer program that rocks, by the way) and finished it within the week. I remember Jamie telling me how sad she was when she finished the book, and I felt the same way. I did not want this book to end! The story intertwines the lives of two orphans of very different circumstances and generations, bouncing back every few chapters to the other’s story. I found the book to be incredibly heart-wrenching, inspiring, and captivating. It was hard to put down.

Here are some excerpts from first page that gave me chills:

I believe in ghosts. They’re the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened… Sometimes these spirits have been more real to me than people, more real than God. They fill silence with their weight, dense and warm, like bread dough rising under cloth…

I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is — a place in the memory of others where our best selves live on…

No substitute for the living, perhaps, but I wasn’t given a choice. I could take solace in their presence or I could fall down in a heap, lamenting what I’d lost. The ghosts whispered to me, telling me to go on. 

What beautiful words on loss.

Plus, there’s a lot of history here — I learned that the Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that operated between 1854 and 1929, transporting nearly 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children from crowded cities on the East coast to foster homes in the rural midwest. Such an interesting piece of history about which I knew nothing. I highly recommend this one!

12 thoughts on “Reading…”
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  1. The book The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty first introduced me to the reality of orphan trains in the early twentieth century (I had no idea!). It’s part of the back story of that novel’s protagonist, and the book is one that I still think about.

  2. I heard such an interesting discussion on this – I believe it was with Laura Moriarty. It’s been awhile, but I’ll try and find a link.

    I just finished “At the Edge of the Orchard” by Tracy Chevalier – I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a next read. Another westward expansion-type novel.

  3. Interesting, Brooke! I’d never heard of it before. I’ll have to check out The Chaperone — I found the history behind the orphan trains so fascinating!

  4. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve just purchased it for my kindle so it will be included in my summer reads.

  5. This is on my nightstand waiting to get read. I just blew through one book and started on The Night Sister which is riveting and creepy. I love it!

  6. Oh, good! Maggie, I think you’ll like this one! Let me know how The Night Sister is — maybe I’ll borrow that one from you for our beach trip!

  7. The child theme here reminds me of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It’s an adaptation of a Russian folk tale that I loved when I was little. If you haven’t read it yet, I think you would like it, especially if you like a little magical realism/fantasy. It’s a great reflection on motherhood in an narrative way (my favorite way, personally).

  8. Loved this book! I was also surprised to learn about orphan trains. Don’t ya just love it when reading fiction teaches you things?

    Also I agree with Liz and HIGHLY second reading The Snow Child. Based on your reflections on motherhood on this blog I think you’d really enjoy it. I chose it as my book club pick and everyone LOVED it, which is pretty unusual in my club since we all have varied tastes. I’d say wait until the winter though to read it. It goes well with a snowy street and a strong wind rattling your windows 😉

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