This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
My Grandmother likes to support local authors, which for her means Minnesotan. Krueger is one of her favorites. This is the second one I’ve checked out from her library.
“In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, Odie O’Banion is an orphan confined to the Lincoln Indian Training School, a pitiless place where his lively nature earns him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee after committing a terrible crime, he and his brother, Albert, their best friend, Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own. Over the course of one summer, these four orphans journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds.”
Odie is a classic rebel whose longing for a home and family makes him endearing. His spunk and ingenuity provide a great contrast to his strict brother and easy-going best friend, but what is most remarkable is how the characters change throughout the story. The Great Depression provides the fiery furnace to refine young boys into men, and each character’s unique skills play a part in their survival. Their struggles are at once heartbreaking and inspiring, and their loyalty to each other as family is a poignant reminder that love is stronger than blood.
The plot follows Odie and his friends as they flee the training school’s superintendent and head down the Mississippi River toward their aunt’s home in St. Louis. Along the way, they meet other down-and-out drifters, some alleys, some enemies, some a mixture of both. Overall, the story moves at a good pace and is engaging the entire length.
Krueger’s vivid descriptions capture the feel and struggle of The Great Depression. His prose moves smoothly across the page—neither overly descriptive nor sparse. Of the two of his books I’ve read, I liked this one best.
One thing I admire about Krueger’s writing is that he does not hesitate to portray history’s horrors, especially with the treatment of Native Americans. He sensitively portrays Mose coming to terms with his identity, his people’s history, and his friendship with three white kids.
Krueger also includes elements of mysticism in his writing, in this case with the faith healer and Emmy’s gift. I am not as big a fan of this, but I didn’t find it bothersome.
The author said he envisioned this book as an update of Huckleberry Finn, and he achieved that goal. His spunky protagonists and their harrowing journey capture the spirit of adventure endemic to that tale. Setting their adventure during The Great Depression immerses the reader in time and space much like Where the Crawdads Sing. Overall, their journey of hardship and friendship make for a brilliant read.
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