Orphan Train Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Orphan Train

A life of hardship and loneliness bring a troubled seventeen year old girl looking for belonging and acceptance and a lonely ninety year old woman with a secret past to discover they have more in common than just cleaning out the attic.
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Seventeen year old Molly is on probation for stealing a book from the library. Her foster parents are at their wits end with her and her gothic looks and vegan lifestyle. Molly's only friend, Jack has a plan to get her a place to do her community service so she won't be sent away. His mother is a dispatcher at the Spruce Harbor police station and cares for an elderly woman in the mornings. This woman, Vivian, is 90 , has a huge mansion on the water front with an attic full of old collectables and boxes of her past. Before Molly can run away, Vivian agrees to let her work off her community service hours thinking it is a project for school.

It's 1926 and Vivian and her family have come over to New York from Ireland with nothing but the clothes on their backs. After 2 years of getting along on barely anything, there is a horrific fire at their apartment which kills her parents, brothers and baby sister. Eight year old Vivian is left entirely alone and sent to an orphanage. With her red hair and freckles, she is told she is undesirable and may be hard to place in a new home. She is chosen along with twenty other children to join the orphan train that will travel west. It will stop at several towns and folks looking to adopt or 'hire' a child, will choose one of the children to come live with them. Conditions of the 'adoption' is to cloth, educate and feed the child as if they were their own. But most of the children knew that wasn't what really happens.
Vivian's real name was Niamh, pronounced Neev. She was given a baby, Carmine, to care for on the train and eventually made a friend, Dutchy, a tough boy, always getting into trouble. They were always hungry and cold. Eventually the train made it's first stop in Chicago. The kids lined up to be inspected by the prospective parents. Carmine was taken almost immediately. Neev and Dutchy were not chosen so they got back on the train to the next stop. There they are both chosen, Dutchy by a farmer looking for a strong boy to work the fields. Neev was chosen by a nice looking older couple. She hoped she was going to be one of the lucky ones, fed and clothed and allowed to go to school.

On the ride to her new home, The Brynes told her they needed someone to help sew which Neev assured them she could do. They didn't like her name so they changed it to Dorothy. Upon arrival at her new home, Dorothy found the Brynes' had a sewing shop in the living room with 6 other ladies working there. She was instructed to start immediately, given the rules of the house and left to work. She had only a folding pad in a closet for a bed and had to sleep in the hallway. Almost a year later, the stock market crashes and the Brynes' went broke. The head master from the Children's Aid Society comes to get her and take her to another family. He assured her they would be good to her, they just needed help with their children.

Present day - Molly and Vivian are becoming friends as they go through the boxes and memorabilia. Vivian has a hard time getting rid of anything. She prefers to just repack and label the boxes. Molly tells her she is with a foster family that doesn't really like her. Her mom is in jail and dad dead. They lived in a trailer and were very poor. She pretty much has no one. She's been bounced around from foster family to foster family. She confesses to Vivian that she is on probation for stealing. While at school Molly decides to use Vivian for a real project, to interview someone who had to take a journey and what they chose to bring with them to the next place and what they left behind. She's really enjoying hearing about Vivian's past. She even decides to see if she can find any of Vivian's family, especially her little sister that supposedly died in the fire.

1930 - Dorothy is in her new home, a shack on a few hundred acres of land in the middle of no-where with a family poorer than she's ever seen. She must sleep on dirty mattresses with the other children, cook and clean. But there is one good thing, they send her to school everyday. Unfortunately it is only a matter of time before the scum bag of a foster father tries to molest her. The mother stops him and sends Dorothy into the night with only the clothes on her back. She runs the four miles to the school house hoping the teacher, Miss Larson who likes her, will take her in.

Dorothy is allowed to stay with Miss Larson but only for a few weeks as she lives in a boarding home for single working women. But while there Dorothy feels loved, she helps around the house and feels safe. Eventually the man from the Children's Aid society shows up to take her to a new home. It turns out that Miss Larson has helped find Dorothy a suitable home with a couple who own the local general store and who had lost their own daughter. It turns out to be a perfect fit. The Neilson's only ask that Dorothy take the name of their deceased daughter Vivian. She does happily.

For the next several years Vivian becomes manager of the store, stocking up on new fashions and styles. The store grows and becomes very successful. While on a trip out of town with some girlfriends Vivian runs into her old friend, Dutchy playing the piano at a nightclub. they court, he moves to her town and they get married. Vivian has never been happier. Then Pearl Harbor happens and Dutchy is killed in action, and Vivian is expecting their first child.

Present day - Molly and her foster mom have a huge fight and she is told they are done with her. Molly doesn't wait to be sent away but leaves that night. She goes to Vivian's hoping she will let her stay a few nights. They both love the company. Vivian confides in Molly how she was so in love with Dutchy that the thought of raising his child alone was just to much for her so she gave the baby, a girl, up for adoption. Later Vivian met one of his war buddies and they married. Molly tells her how she was reaching her family and found Vivian's sister. She didn't die in the fire like she was told but was adopted by the people that owned the apartments. Molly showed her a picture and told her that sadly she had died just a few years ago at 83.

Now Vivian becomes curious as to how to find other people. She finally wants to know what happened to her daughter. Molly orders her a computer, has wifi connected to her house and Vivian begins her search. It doesn't take long before they find her daughter living only a couple of states away. She is married and has a daughter. Vivian makes contact and they agree to meet. The day arrives and her daughter Sarah gets out of her car with her daughter Becca, who has red hair and freckles.
Best part of story, including ending: I just felt so bad for all the orphaned children, treated like they were had the plague, like they did this to themselves.

Best scene in story: I really liked it when Vivian found her adopted daughter and finally met her.

Opinion about the main character: I like both Molly and Vivian. They were so much alike having had such a hard time as children, then finally finding hope and love.

The review of this Book prepared by Kathy Ediss a Level 2 American Robin scholar

Chapter Analysis of Orphan Train

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   thoughtful Time/era of story    -   1930's-1950's Kids growing up/acting up?    -   Yes Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Parents/lack of parents problem?    -   orphan story

Main Character

Gender    -   Female Age:    -   a kid Ethnicity/Nationality    -   Irish


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   5 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Midwest Misc setting    -   moving train

Writing Style

Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Christina Baker Kline Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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