Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Overall, I enjoyed Orphan Train very much, and I believe it possess great merit through all facets, including literary, narrative, and cathartic. The style and clarity and consistency certainly gives it great literary merit. The reader is always anxiously awaiting the next chapter in the story about Niamh, but when it switches back to Molly, it is for an ideal length of pages in order to give the reader enough foreshadowing into Niamh’s transformation from Dorothy — and finally — to Vivian.
There is certainly a sense of verisimilitude and engaging content in this story that gives it great narrative merit. The verisimilitude is very apparent, since the book often traces back to a similar experience (that happened to Niamh in the early twentieth century when she was young) in Molly’s life despite the fact that Molly lives in the twenty first century. For example, Molly leaves her foster parents and goes to live with a safe person, Vivian, just like Vivian was able to run away from Mr. Grote and live with a safe person, Miss Larsen. There is also verisimilitude during the great reunion with Vivian and her daughter (fathered by Dutchy) and her daughter’s family. Although a reunion is often a typical ending to a story, it also brought a sense of verisimilitude, since some people who knowingly give children up for adoption certainly dream about a day where they meet that child. It also wrapped up the ending in order to answer any questions that the reader might have had about Vivian.
There is also engaging content because Niamh’s life is constantly changing. Niamh starts by going on a train with other orphans, then living with a husband and wife who force her to work and live in horrid conditions, then moving in with a mentally unstable family who does not treat her right, then moving into Mrs. Murphy’s house for young girls, and finally ending up with a family who decides to officially adopt her. Additionally, the amount of significant emotional impact on the reader is immense. This starts from the very beginning, when Niamh leaves everything she knows in Ireland behind to start a new life in America. However, her parents and siblings quickly die, and although her sister survives, she does not find out until her sister has passed away. Also, Niamh (Vivian) is starved most of the time while moving from house to house, she is abused by Mr. Grote, and when she finally finds a happily ever after with Dutchy, he ends up dying in war. The ending gives the reader a positive emotional impact though, since Vivian is reunited with her daughter and her family.
Lastly, the text challenges the reader and their personal beliefs because they see how these two people, Vivian and Molly, started their lives with a family of which they had a living memory. However, their lives became horrific because of being placed in certain situations. I think it really stresses the nature versus nurture idea of a child’s developmental stages, since some people automatically assume that orphans come from a bad family, and it is their fault for not having a bright future ahead of them. However, in the book, the families with which these two girls must live are the reasons why they struggle in life. In the end, when they both end up with good people in their lives, they can become their true, authentic, selves.
Laura Guay is a senior at State College High School.