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This Tender Land

Review

This Tender Land

THIS TENDER LAND is not quite the book that William Kent Krueger’s fans expected, but it’s hard to imagine a better one. Krueger had intended to write a companion to ORDINARY GRACE, his award-winning novel from 2013, set separate and apart from his long-running Cork O’Connor series. However, the manuscript fell short of his expectations, and instead he decided to write “a completely different kind of story.” That is exactly what THIS TENDER LAND is, and it is a story that will stay with you long after you read the last page.

"A reading of THIS TENDER LAND flows like the Mississippi River, which runs through the novel in a quiet backdrop. Although it takes place in a bygone era, the themes are contemporary, as occurs with the best of historical fiction, of which this book should certainly be included."

This novel is an odyssey of sorts, the tale of four Depression-era children of disparate backgrounds who are thrown together in miserable straits. The Lincoln Indian Training School, located on the banks of the Gilead River in Fremont County, Minnesota, is run by the husband-and-wife team of Clyde and Thelma Brickman. Their charges include Odie and Albert O’Banion, an orphaned pair of brothers who find themselves the only Caucasians among the Indian residents in what is one step above reform school. Thelma is a stern taskmaster who is ready with corporal punishment at the hint of the least infraction. Odie, the narrator, is a frequent target of her wrath.

A good deal of the book’s first quarter is devoted to the lives of the O’Banion brothers at the school in the summer of 1932 and the unrelenting misery that is a part of it. Odie becomes friends with Moses Washington, an Indian boy who had been horribly mutilated and then abandoned. Their only other friend is Emmy Frost, the daughter of a teacher at the school. Events quickly overtake the youngsters. Emmy abruptly becomes an orphan by tragic circumstance, and another incident results in the brothers making a strategic exit from the school with the Brickmans and law enforcement in hot pursuit, spreading the lie that Emmy has been kidnapped.

What follows is a series of adventures and missteps with the children, underfinanced and out-resourced, often relying on the intermittent kindness of strangers as they make their way slowly toward St. Louis by way of Nebraska. Their aim is to locate Aunt Julie, a relative who Odie barely remembers but who apparently sent money to the school for the boys --- money that they never saw. There are many surprises along the way, but none so great as when Odie reaches his final destination, and a chain-link series of events change everything for him.

A reading of THIS TENDER LAND flows like the Mississippi River, which runs through the novel in a quiet backdrop. Although it takes place in a bygone era, the themes are contemporary, as occurs with the best of historical fiction, of which this book should certainly be included. You will not be disappointed with the story and will read it effortlessly from start to finish in a single sitting.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 3, 2019

This Tender Land
by William Kent Krueger

  • Publication Date: September 3, 2019
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1476749299
  • ISBN-13: 9781476749297