I first learned about the orphan trains that ran from the east coast through the midwest during the Iowa Book Festival a couple of years ago when I attended the reading given by Laura Moriarty for her novel The Chaperone which also explores a train orphan’s search for who she is. I really enjoyed The Chaperone and was looking for a similar experience when I picked up Orphan Train.
I’m sad to say that I did not enjoy Orphan Train. The book seemed to skim the surface of all the issues, the characters were paper dolls that did predictable things. Usually, I enjoy books that try to show how our current times are reflected in our past. But Vivian’s and Molly’s connection, because of their continued distrust of one another, never becomes the strong and loving friendship that, I feel, was intended until it’s too late. The lack of growth in the characters’ relationships prevented me from connecting with story and the people the story was about.
This was also one of those books where the main characters had every bad (and good) thing conceivable happen to them. It made the plot seem contrived and a little too convenient. Now I won’t deny that some of the things that Vivian experienced in her life happened to some of the train orphans. However, to have all of that happen to a SINGLE person is a bit too Lifetime movie-ish for me. As a result, as the book progressed, I would roll my eyes as the next huge life event would happen.
In the end, because I had a difficult time connecting with the characters and believing all those things could happen to one person, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline receives a thumbs down.