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Orphan Train

It’s a Hard Knock Life; Orphan Wisdom
By Neely Kennedy

In the Ladies' Home Journal Book Club June selection, Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline takes readers on an absorbing and very personal journey, intertwining the stories of a misfit teenage girl, Molly, and a reclusive ninety year old woman, Vivian, who bond over their painful orphan childhoods.

Vivian is a fictional character based on the real life experiences of New York orphans placed into foster care families during The Children’s Aid Society Orphan Train Movement of the late 1800’s, while Molly represent the modern day foster-child. Though the two women are brought up in different eras, and Molly’s modern experience is less harsh than Vivian’s thanks to child-protective services laws, their experience of abandonment, abuse, neglect, and mistrust are largely the same.

Below are quotes that highlight Molly and Vivian’s shared experience of the hard life lessons learned to survive their cruel existences as orphaned children.

“They had their friends, their cliques, and she didn’t fit into any of them. It was true that she hadn’t made it easy; she knows from experience that tough and weird is preferable to pathetic and vulnerable, and she wears her Goth persona like armor.”

“She has learned that she can control her emotions by thinking of her chest cavity as an enormous box with a chain lock. She opens the box and stuffs in any unmanageable feelings, any wayward sadness or regret, and clamps it shut.”

“If there’s one thing she hates the most about being in the foster care system, it’s this dependence on people you barely know, your vulnerability to their whims. She has learned not to expect anything from anybody.”

“Jack would laugh if he knew, but she’s been in the system long enough to understand that it all comes down to documentation. Get your papers in order, with the right signatures, and record keeping, and the charges will be dropped, money released, whatever. I you’re disorganized, you risk losing everything.”

“I know too much; I’ve seen people at their worst, at their most desperate and selfish, and this knowledge makes me wary. So I am learning to pretend, to smile, to nod, to display empathy I do not feel. I am learning to pass, to look like everyone else, even though I feel broken inside.”

“I learned long ago that loss is not only probable but inevitable. I know what it means to lose everything, to let go of one life and find another. And now I feel, with strange, deep certainty, that it must be my lot in life to be taught that lesson over and over again.”


Book Club Bonus: Both Molly and Vivian treasure keepsake necklaces that remind them of their roots and original families. Ask your members to bring a keepsake piece of jewelry or other item that represents their family and share what significance it holds.

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