Buddy Read: This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published 2019; 450 pages
My sister, Donna, and I have both read Ordinary Grace by Krueger and really enjoyed it so chose this one for a Buddy Read this year. I think I'm going to embark on the journey of reading them all. Maybe a 2023 goal - I'm looking forward to the Cork detective series.
First Sentence: "In the beginning, after he labored over the heavens and the earth, the light and the dark, the land and sea and all living things that dwell therein, after he created man and woman and before he rested, I believe God gave us one final gift. Lest we forget the divine source of all that beauty, he gave us stories."
Set in the summer of 1932 during the Great Depression, this story of four kids on the run from an abusive "boarding school" in Minnesota in the 1930s is captivating from the very first page. There's Emmy, a little girl (6 years old) who has lost her parents, brothers Odie and Albert, 12 & 16 years old, and Mose, a Sioux boy who can't speak who undertake a massive journey. It's sort of a 'road trip' story ala Huck Finn in the sense that they travel in a canoe down a river on their way to St Louis and "home", but also the road to growing up and figuring out their place in the world.
As orphans, Odie and Albert are the only white kids in a terrible place, the Lincoln Indian Training School. The 'school' is a place where Native kids are sent after being forcibly removed from their family and community. They are supposedly taught to be "white". The author shines a very critical, unforgiving light on this practice. After a crime (not crime), the kids are forced to go on the run and try to keep ahead of the evil school masters and police and also face the unknown, try to find food and shelter along the way. It's a Herculean task! The kids experience various threats, face some major fears, but also find great joy and kindness from strangers.
"Everything's hard work, Buck [Odie]. You don't wrap your thinking around that, life'll kill you for sure. Me, I love this land, the work. Never was a churchgoer. God all penned up under a roof? I don't think so. Ask me, God's right here. In the dirt, the rain, the sky, the trees, the apples, the stars in the cottonwoods. In you and me, too. It's all connected and it's all God."
This Tender Land is told in first person by Odie as he reflects back on his life and the turning point that the summer of '32 becomes. It's easy to forget that the story is memories because he thankfully doesn't interrupt the flow of the story and remind us every chapter. The last few chapters hold a few surprises but the resolution is perfect.
Donna and I find Krueger's writing style very readable, thought provoking, and evocative. He has a gift for storytelling and weaving emotions into a plot line. Told by Odie, the 12 year old boy, I feel like Odie's emotions and reactions are very authentic and I felt each pain and success. Krueger also manages to insert religion, faith, and doubts into his stories in a very believable and subtle way. Descriptions of the Great Depression and the displacement of Native American children are well researched and heartbreaking.
A story about enduring friendship, found family, faith, conquering fears and discovering kindness, about learning to recognize and accept each person's differences, and about so much more. This would be an exceptional book for a book club - lots of themes. Highly recommended.
Historical Reading Challenge #histficreadingchallenge