ORPHAN TRAIN

By Christina Baker Kline

William Morrow, 2013

278 pages, $14.99

ISBN 978-0-06-195072-8

Revealing a little-known chapter of American social history, Christina Baker Kline’s latest novel vividly explores the orphan train phenomenon in 1929 — the well-intended but sad transportation of orphaned or abandoned children from East Coast cities to the rural Midwest, to be arbitrarily placed with families, often as indentured labor on farms or in businesses.

Kline was raised in Maine and this is her 5th novel, a brilliant and sensitive story about two women, generations apart, who both come to realize that friendships and family are too precious to ignore.

In Spruce Harbor, in 2011, 91-year-old Vivian (a veteran of the orphan train in 1929) takes on young Molly, a 17-year-old juvenile delinquent, to help her clean out her attic (as part of Molly’s court-ordered community service). As the two women dig through old boxes, Vivian remembers those frightful years as a 9-year-old Irish immigrant girl —adrift, afraid and alone in Minnesota — trying to survive in an adult world, hungry, cold and scared.

However, Vivian is bright and resourceful: “I’m learning to pretend, to smile and nod, to display empathy I do not feel. I am learning to pass, to look like everyone else, even though I feel broken inside.” And her connection with Molly is gripping. Molly is also an abandoned child, struggling to find her way just as Vivian did years before, and she has adapted well.

Vivian’s story covers the years from 1929 to 1943, with a heady mixture of heartache and happiness, and a fateful decision that will haunt her for 68 years. As Vivian and Molly grow closer, they find much to like about each other with Molly finally understanding why Vivian really wanted to clean out her attic. A stunningly tender and satisfying story, indeed.

BACKTRACK

By V. Paul Reynolds

Islandport Press, 2013

264 pages, $16.95

ISBN 978-1-934031-49-0

Some of Maine’s best writers are outdoorsmen (and women) who write colorfully of their experiences hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and enjoying nature’s wildlife and beauty. Paul Reynolds is one of them.

“Backtrack” is Reynolds’ first book, but he’s already an award-winning journalist, editor, radio show host and publisher of the “Northeast Sporting Journal.” He lives in Hampden.

Refreshingly, this entertaining collection of 55 stories isn’t just a bunch of folksy outdoor anecdotes. It has some of that element, but also includes thoughtful passages about nature, friendships, solitude (“Places where quiet can be heard are disappearing from our world.”) and wildlife, as well as very useful advice on a variety of outdoor subjects.

As expected, some stories are hilarious misadventures. “Calamities of the Call” tells how a moose call worked too well. In “The Big Bug Battle,” Reynolds wryly explains why clouds of biting insects are great for fishing, but bad for the fisherman and how a cigar is more than just a good smoke.

Other stories are much more serious, like “Trouble on the Mountain” about a Colorado elk hunter’s unnerving and violent encounter with a notorious game poacher. Other sobering tales tell about the deadly dangers of lightning, moose attacks and getting lost in the woods.

Reynolds also discusses the pros and cons of catch-and-release fishing, how to properly plan an elk hunt with black powder rifles (“smoke pole shooters”), how to properly train a hunting dog and how a red squirrel can feed a trout.

Learn, too, why a “snotty trout” is not a fish with a head cold, why Parachute Adams isn’t a skydiver and why big is not always better. He also includes recipes for cooking game like muskrat pie, crock-pot quail and beaver burgers. What, no possum stew?

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.