Parental love, loss, helplessness and broken childhoods… The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline follows the story of Molly, a troubled teenager of American Indian descent, who, by the age of 17 has lived in a string of foster homes. One day, after Molly gets caught stealing Jane Eyre from the local library, her paths cross with Vivian, a 90-year-old wealthy widow, who (unknowingly) allows Molly to serve her community service punishment by helping her go through an attic-full of mementos stored in her house.
As the story unravels, the readers find out that Vivian is one of the Orphan Train children. Her Irish immigrant parents and brothers dead as the result of a terrible fire in their New York apartment, Vivian, then known as Niamh, is taken in by the Children Aid Society, that operated the train service taking the orphaned and homeless children to the American midwest.
In many of the cases, the Orphan Train children ended up victims of a form of modern slavery and abuse, which in Vivian’s case included attempted rape. Vivian’s story is a sad and deeply-moving tale of loves and families lost, and as the old lady bonds with Molly, the readers find out that the two have much in common.
Although the book has overwhelmingly positive reviews, including a 4* average on Goodreads, unfortunately, I may be one of those readers who’d commit a sacrilege by giving the book a not-so-glowing review. The plot idea is brilliant.The writing style of the Orphan Train is undoubtedly too plain, borderline boring even. Some parts of the book go somewhat like this: “I did this. And this. And this too,” leaving mediocre impression and the desire to skip ahead to avoid the awfully droning descriptions.
Vivian is the only character that started to grow on me up until the point where I learned that she decides to abandon her child out of fear of facing another yet loss in her life. On the one hand, it is quite possible to feel for this young woman, who had a severely damaged childhood, yet her choice to (potentially) bring the same fate on her own daughter is just irrational. Molly, on the other hand, is too much of a stereotypical teenage goth, a character with no interests and aspirations aside from continuing being angry with the world. She does show some strength of will, yet, unfortunately, the overall character development is plainly far too weak.