DAYTON — History, resilience and unexpected friendship are the focus of the next Big Read community reading selection, ‘Orphan Train,’ by Christina Baker Kline.
The novel was chosen by popular vote online and in person at libraries and other locations across the Miami Valley. The Big Read officially gets under way in March of 2016, with book discussions and other activities planned throughout the community.
The novel, published in 2013, is a New York Times Bestseller and is currently in development as a motion picture.
“I am interested in the way events beyond our control can shape and define our lives,” says Kline. “All of my books address these themes.”
In Orphan Train, Kline tells two intertwining stories: one focusing on a present-day teenager about to age out of foster care, and the other beginning in 1929, when young Irish girl is placed on a train with dozens of other children sent to find new families in the American Midwest.
Publishers Weekly calls the book “Absorbing… a heartfelt page-turner.”
Library Journal calls it “A compelling story about loss, adaptability, and courage.”
“This book offers many interesting possibilities for discussion and activities during the Big Read,” said Jennifer Spillman, Big Read Programming Chair. “It speaks to both teen and older readers alike. It deals with historical facts, cultural identity and the whims of fate.”
The novel highlights a little-known element of American history. From 1854 to 1929, more than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned and homeless children were transported by train from the eastern U.S. to find homes in the Midwest. Many found not loving families, but indentured servitude instead.
“The children, many of whom had experienced great trauma in their short lives, had no idea where there were going,” says Kline. “The train would pull into a station, and townspeople assembled to inspect them – often literally scrutinizing teeth, eyes, and limbs to determine whether a child was sturdy enough for field work or intelligent and mild-tempered enough to cook and clean. If a child wasn’t chosen, he or she would get back on the train to try again at the next town.”
In the novel, 90-year-old Vivian was one of these orphans sent by train to an unknown future. Present-day teenager Molly, struggling with her own identity as a foster child, helps Vivian face her past, the secrets she’s carried and the experiences the two have in common.
For more information on The Big Read, including book and author details, visit BigRead.org. A schedule of activities and book discussions will be posted in January.