Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
William Morrow Paperback, 2013
Historical Fiction/Realistic Fiction
I saw this at a bookstore last year, and was all, "ooh, orphan trains!" I think that one of those cheesy Readers' Digest Condensed books I read in my impressionable youth featured plucky orphans undergoing that forced migration. You would think that, as an adoptive parent, it might have occurred to me that orphans actually aren't a cute and compelling trope, but actual people.
On the other hand, there is a long history of orphan books, so it's not like I'm the only one who gets confused. This book alone mentions Anne of Green Gables, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Jane Eyre.
I was eager to read the book, and when I had an unexpected night to myself, I decided to dive in. I found myself absorbed in Niamh/Dorothy/Vivian's sections, but increasingly annoyed with Molly's. It just--argh. The whole premise, that she's working for Vivian to stay out of juvie, was ridiculous. This is not pre-revolutionary France. We don't lock up peasants for stealing worn paperbacks from the library. Seriously; I can't imagine a single person who has any interaction with kids thinking that this is a lock-up worthy crime. And her boyfriend, ol' what's-his-name, was stunningly bland. Why was he even there? To be her conduit into Vivian's life? Couldn't her social worker or a school acquaintance have done the job without giving rise to the expectation that that person would actually be important in the story?
My difficulty entering Molly's world made me suspicious of Vivian's world. Maybe it was equally unlikely, and I am just easier to fool about events that took place 90 years ago. Her struggles were frightening, and seemed possible, but her love life (and its results) were improbable.
I sound really cranky. It was a readable book, but I was frustrated with it, and am surprised it has the buzz that it does.