'The Orphan Train' by Christina Baker Kline - Discussion Questions

The cover of The Orphan Train

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline moves back and forth between two stories -- that of a young orphan girl in the early twentieth century and that of a teenager in the modern-day foster care system. As such, book clubs that read this book have the opportunity to discuss American history, foster care issues or the relationships between characters in this particular novel. Choose among these discussion questions as you decide which threads are most interesting for your group to discuss more deeply.

Spoiler Warning: Some of these questions reveal details from the end of the novel. Finish the book before reading on.

Questions About The Orphan Train

  1. The prolog gives away many of the details of Vivian's life, such as when her parents died and the fact that her true love would die when she was 23. Did you remember these details as you read the novel? Do you think the prolog adds something important to the story?
  2. In many ways, the main story in this book is Vivian's; however, the novel's opening and closing chapters are in Spring Harbor in 2011 and contain Molly's story. Why do you think the author chose to frame the novel with Molly's experience?
  3. Were you more connected to one thread of the story -- the past or present, Vivian's or Molly's? Do you think moving back and forth between time and the two stories added something to the novel that would have been missing if it was one linear story? Or do you think it detracted from the main narrative?
  4. Had you heard of the orphan trains before reading this novel? Do you think there were benefits to the system? What were the downsides that the novel highlighted?
  5. Compare and contrast Vivian's experiences with Molly's. What are some ways that the current foster care system still needs to improve? Do you think any system could deal with the hole provided when a child loses his or her parents (either through death or neglect)?
  6. Molly and Vivian each held on to a necklace linking them to their cultural heritage even though their early experiences within those cultures were not entirely positive. Discuss why you think heritage is (or is not) important to personal identity.
  7. Does molly complete a portage project for school answering the questions, "What did you choose to bring with you to the next place? What did you leave behind? What insights did you gain about what's important?" (131). Take some time as a group to share your own experiences moving and how you would answer these questions personally.
  8. Did you think Vivian and Molly's relationship was believable?
  9. Why do you think Vivian chose to give up her baby? Vivian says of herself, "I was a coward. I was selfish and afraid" (251). Do you think that's true?
  10. Why do you think Vivian eventually takes Molly up on her offer to help her reconnect with her daughter? Do you think that learning the truth about Maisie had an impact on her decision?
  11. Why do you think Vivian's story helps Molly experience more peace and closure with her own?
  12. Rate The Orphan Train on a scale of 1 to 5.
  • The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline was published in April 2013
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • 288 Pages
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Your Citation
Miller, Erin Collazo. "'The Orphan Train' by Christina Baker Kline - Discussion Questions." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-orphan-train-discussion-questions-362056. Miller, Erin Collazo. (2020, August 26). 'The Orphan Train' by Christina Baker Kline - Discussion Questions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-orphan-train-discussion-questions-362056 Miller, Erin Collazo. "'The Orphan Train' by Christina Baker Kline - Discussion Questions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-orphan-train-discussion-questions-362056 (accessed March 21, 2023).