Today I have a new review for you. Today’s book is part contemporary fiction, part historical fiction. Take a look at Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.
Molly is a foster child. The home she is in now is at least a little more stable that the last several. Except for the fact that her foster mother is a total jerk. She refuses to accept that Molly is vegetarian, or that she is gothic, or really anything else about her. Ralph, Molly’s foster father, tries to keep the peace but that really only amounts to him shrugging, grimacing, and saying totally useless phrases that usually make the situation worse rather than better. Molly has been passed around enough that she is resentful and angry and she couldn’t care less is Dina, her father mother, likes her.
Niamh (pronounced Neev) is an orphan. Her parents died tragically after having been in America only a short time from County Galway, Ireland. The only thing Niamh has left to remind her of home is the Claddagh cross necklace her grandmother gave her before they left. Niamh has been sent to the Children’s Aid Society of New York and now she will be put aboard what has been called the “orphan train”. The idea is to send Niamh to a town where there are people waiting to take in orphans. The problem is, what kind of people are they? Niamh’s new found friend Dutchy says that they just want a kid to basically be a servant or slave. Niamh tries to hold hope that the family that takes her will be nicer than that.
I became interested in this book shortly after having learned about orphan trains and their intentions in a class at University. Before that, I really had not heard of orphan trains so I was excited to see a fiction author’s take on this little heard of piece of American history.
Okay… I wanted to like Molly. I really did. But I feel like her story has been done to death: The foster child who has been passed from one horrible home to another until she is bitter and angry and takes it out on everyone. I am sad to say that Molly’s story is not uncommon in the real world, but its also not the only story. Where are the stories where the conflict is not with horrible foster parents but with something else in their lives and the foster parents are like their real parents and they can turn to them?
However, I held out hope that sooner or later her story would change. That Molly would grow. It took quite a while for Molly to make any changes and those were minimal. I found myself sorry to have to come back to the contemporary sections of the book.
I got really interested in Niamh’s story and I think maybe a whole book about Niamh would have been a really good story. A whole story just about Niamh’s travels to New York, onto the orphan train, and to various parts of the country on her journey to find stability would have been wonderful.
The story in General:
As I said, the historical fiction parts of the book were good. I enjoyed it and was really happy that most of the book was made up of the historical fiction. I felt that a huge opportunity was wasted though. I wanted to hear about what it was to be brought in as an orphan, of waiting, and then of being put onto the train. I wanted to hear more about the process.
The ending bothered me a bit. It was sort of a last minute transformation that wasn’t complete. Not to mention that several things that were put forth as a solution were actually illegal. And I don’t mean little crimes that can be overlooked for the greater good. I’m talking about serious, federal fraud in the foster system.
Finally, a note to parents and school personnel. I want to offer up a brief warning about some of the content of the book. To me, I could easily have seen a parent buying this book for their child or a school buying a copy for their library because it looks like a book young people would want to read and it seems like it will be filled with historical facts about this period of American history. The thing is, there is a scene where there is graphic detail about Molly and her boyfriend making out and a bit more (which I found unnecessary to the conversation and the overall plot of the book. Molly’s character had already been established as was Jack’s so I didn’t see where it furthered the story). There are also graphic details about an attempted rape of a 10 year old girl. I understand why the author wanted to tell that part of the story, but I think the details were too graphic for a young audience. So please adults, be careful.
While there were good aspects of Orphan Train, I do not recommend the book.
Until Next Time,