“Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Historical fiction, Contemporary fiction
Paperback, 294 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins)
 
Orphan Train is a #1 NYT bestseller, and has spent 53 weeks on the bestseller list. Not only so, but it’s also been a very popular choice for book clubs. According to BookMovement, it’s the top book club pick of 2014! I thought, Hey, if that many people are reading it and enjoying it, I should see what all the fuss is about! So I picked up a copy and read it over the long weekend. Here are the results: 

Vivian Daly is a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past. Molly is a 17-year-old girl living in foster care with community service to complete. As they cross paths in the present, we learn about a little girl named Niamh (pronounced Neeve) in the 1930s, orphaned in New York City, and sent to the Midwest on an “Orphan Train.” Chronicling a dark, forgotten part of American history, Kline explores the possibility of second chances and what it means to belong.
This story is rich in detail and scope, filled with interesting and compelling characters. Niamh’s story is representative of many train riders stories that have been untold for too long. Kline brings their tale to the forefront of popular culture. 
 
Orphan Train is an emotional page turner. The parallel time lines tell the stories of two neglected children who feel like outsiders and how they come to feel belonging. I felt engaged in their stories from the beginning, walking alone side them, bearing their pain and struggles along with them. However, while Niamh’s tale is wholly engrossing and well thought out, I felt there were times there was something lacking in that of Molly. Her life and past are mentioned, but aren’t nearly as fleshed out as Niamh’s. I suppose it is really Niamh’s story that’s the reason for the novel, but I feel that in involving Molly in its telling, she could have used slightly more attention. Molly is a means through which to tell Niamh’s story, but sometimes it felt a bit too obvious that that’s what Kline was doing. She has a lot to say about the failings of Orphan Train system, but little to say about its contemporary counterpart—today’s foster care system. On that front we only see stock characters. While they worked for the story, it would have deepened the story to include more depth in this aspect. 
 
On the whole, I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. I recommend it to those who enjoy popular fiction and historical fiction.