Orphan Train

Orphan Train


Christina Baker Kline

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Orphan Train can help.

Orphan Train: Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

At their next meeting, Lori the social worker notices that Molly has removed the “skunk stripe” from her hair and toned down her look. She reviews Molly’s paperwork from her completed community service hours. She asks if Molly finished cleaning out the attic, and Molly says she did. Molly thinks of the boxes, sorted through and neatly organized into an attic that is now easier to navigate. Lori remarks, “you can get a lot done in fifty hours.” Lori shows Molly a note from Mr. Reed, stating that he’s nominating her for a national history prize for her portaging project. Lori tells Molly she’s proud of her. Molly responds by joking that she’s just glad she’s not in “juvie.” Lori jokes back, and Molly smiles genuinely.
Molly’s toned down look suggests that she no longer relies on her “persona” to give her a sense of agency or to keep people at a distance. This indicates that in the stable, accepting space that Vivian gives her, Molly has become more comfortable with herself. The attic, a metaphor for Vivian’s relationship to her past, is now sorted and easier to navigate. This symbolizes Vivian’s acknowledgement and peace with her memories. Molly’s sincere smile is another sign of her new feelings of belonging, safety, and human connection.
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon
Molly settles into life at Vivian’s and starts helping Terry with her chores. One day, Vivian “announces” that she wants a computer. Molly helps her purchase one online and Jack sets up the internet. After watching video tutorials, Vivian sets up an email account. She then begins reading through the plethora of online resources about the orphan trains. She discovers online record archives, articles, books, and information about yearly reunions. In many of the personal stories, the riders frame the orphan train as the catalyzing event that led to their ultimately happy adult lives. Molly questions the “human” tendency to “find […] meaning even in the worst experiences.” Vivian is happy to find out that Carmine grew up to be a successful salesman, got married, and had children and grandchildren. One day Vivian asks Molly, with a face “unguarded and full of longing,” to help her find her daughter, May.
By volunteering to help Terry with her chores, Molly shows her willingness to earn her keep and improve her relationship with Terry. After years without a computer, Vivian’s decision to buy one signals her readiness to emerge from her isolation and connect with the outside world, particularly with others (like the other passengers on the orphan train) who shared her experience. Vivian’s relationship with Molly has reopened her heart to love and connection. Molly’s friendship and the process of reconciling her past have prepared Vivian emotionally for the next step of finding her daughter.
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon