Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

If you are in a book club, or know someone who is, then chances are you are already familiar with this title. Book clubs have been snapping up copies of Orphan Train–the waiting list at the library was up to nearly 500 people at one time, many of them book club members. But I can’t understand why Orphan Train is a popular book club selection, because it doesn’t lend itself to discussion. (Actually, I can: marketing.)

The characters are embarrassingly flat. The story centers around two women, Molly and Vivian. Molly is a teenage foster child who has a good heart but a bad attitude because she has been disappointed by her mother and the foster system. Vivian is a wealthy 90-year-old who rode the orphan trains as a child and is now looking to parcel out some much-needed life advice to a wayward teen. I wish I were summarizing these characters, but I’m not. That is all the character development the reader gets. A Lifetime movie would be ashamed to trot out such caricatures and call them characters.

And while a book club might be able to eke out about two minutes of discussion about the plot (“Did you know kids from New York were shipped to the Midwest and placed in completely unsupervised foster situations?” “No! How scandalous!”), there is nothing to really sink the teeth into. The author occasionally brushes up against a topic that might create some discussion–Molly runs away from her foster home, Vivian decides to give up her baby after her husband is killed in World War II. But rather than letting the characters struggle through their own messes, she swoops in with a deus ex machina fix for every problem. This insistence upon happy endings robs thKe plot of relatability and, ultimately, dooms what might have been a compelling story.

If you are planning a book club discussion, I suggest you avoid Orphan Train. Your discussion will be more about the canapes than about the book. Unless that’s the way your book club rolls, which is cool with me. As long as you have wine.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC KLINE), as well as Large Print and CD Books

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