Summer reads

Orphan Train: A Novel
Christina Baker Kline ’86
William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99
Reviewed by Bruce Fellman

Between 1854 and 1929, more than a quarter of a million orphaned and abandoned children living in New York, Boston, and other eastern US cities were put on trains and shipped west to heartland and frontier families. Some of those families were well-meaning, others simply looking for cheap labor. In her fifth novel, Kline crafts a story about an orphan-train rider named Vivian Daly, an Irish girl sent from New York City to the Midwest.

Now 91 and living in Maine, Vivian slowly reveals her past—including the story of abandoning her own child in Depression-era Minnesota—to Molly Ayer, the unlikeliest of confidantes. Molly, a 17-year-old misfit Penobscot Indian who has been in a series of foster homes, is helping Vivian clean her attic as part of a community-service deal, reached after the teen was caught stealing a shopworn copy of Jane Eyre from the local library.

“I believe in ghosts,” says Vivian. They “whispered to me, telling me to go on.” The ghosts evoked by both women whisper to readers as well, haunting and delighting in this quietly powerful and richly detailed tale of reconciliation.

Bruce Fellman is a contributing writer for the Yale Alumni Magazine.