This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
ISBN: 9781476749297 (Hardcover)
Published 9/3/19 by Atria Books
Genre: Historical Fiction (my library categorized it into the “Mystery” section?)
*The cover photo is taken from Goodreads.*
I would usually just put the Goodreads synopsis here, but I thought it was too big of a story to just give a brief rundown.
“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. Sure this is hard work, but it’s good work, because it’s part of what connects us to this land, Buck. This beautiful, tender land.”
Trigger warnings: murder, mention of drugs, talk of alcoholism, child abuse—physical & mental, prostitution (brothel), and the hint at sexual abuse toward minors/children.
This does have a lot of The Odyssey references. The main character’s name is literally Odysseus. You learn why toward the end of the book.
You start out with a narrator who considers himself a storyteller. He lives along the banks of the Gilead River in a house shaded by a Sycamore tree.
He brings the reader back to 1932 during the midst of the Great Depression when he was a young boy. Odie O’Banion is the narrator’s name, and accompanying him is his older brother, Albert. They are two white boys in an all Indian school called The Lincoln Indian Training School—used to be a military outpost called Fort Sibley. Odie practically lives in the “quiet room” here. An old solitary confinement room that held warriors. Only a thin matting of straw layered the dirt floor, and a rusted iron door had a slot for food. He finds comfort in a rat named Faria, who he feeds when given the chance. Their aunt Julia forced Albert and Odie to go to Lincoln, where kids exhaust themselves physically and mentally, because of the death of their parents.
Running the school (hell hole) is Thelma “Black Witch” Brickman, and Clyde Brickman. Horrible people.
The reader also meets Herman Volz, who watches over the carpentry shop, and is the assistant boys’ advisor. He is missing half of his little finger on his right hand—a bandsaw accident. He watches over Odie and Albert. There is a kid named DiMarco, the groundskeeper who is violent toward the other kids, and Volz doesn’t take any crap from him.
This wouldn’t be This Tender Land without the rest of the vagabonds—Emmy Frost and Moses “Mose” Washington. Emmy is a little girl who lives with her mom, Cora Frost. Cora teaches homemaking skills. Emmy’s father dies in a farming equipment accident. Emmy was flung off the farm equipment, knocking her head, and ended up in a coma for a few days.
Mose isn’t deaf, he just doesn’t have a tongue—cut out of his head by people who also killed his mother. He uses sign language to communicate, but didn’t learn it until Albert and Odie arrived at Lincoln School.
There is a big storm that tears through the town and tragedy ensues—Cora Frost is killed by the tornado. This is the perfect opportunity for Thelma to take her in. No one really understands why she would want to.
Odie and DiMarco get into a fight, which also ends in “tragedy.” When Odie confesses what happens to his brother and Mose, they all take Mr. Frost’s canoe and run away. The plan—to get to Saint Louis to see Albert and Odie’s aunt Julia. Julia had been the one to put them in there. She didn’t realize just how horrible the school was. She had received letters every year telling her how great the kids have been. Julia even sent money to the school to give to Odie and Albert, but they selfishly held on to it.
There are so many other aspects to this story that I don’t even want to mention. I feel like I have already said too much!
Story | There are so many layers to this novel. I appreciated that the kids stayed long enough in each place to create relationships—good or bad—and moved on. It may have moved really fast at some point, but I didn’t mind it all that much. It was very easy to understand what was happening.The author did great at explaining each scene. I felt like there was more showing than telling.
There is a lot of talk about God and what He means to each character. Odie was on the fence about it. He explains that a lot of things happen that don’t make any sense if there is a God. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy that aspect of the story, but I found it really interesting. Last year I read The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord, which talked a lot about religion, but I gave that five-stars as well. It’s really weird how this reading thing works. I will not get into my views on religion here, but it surprises me what kind of books I end up loving.
It’s a moving story about friendship, family, and how the land connects us all.
“Of all that we’re asked to give others in this life, the most difficult to offer may be forgiveness.”
Writing | I will admit that the writing in this novel is quality fiction writing. I found nothing that blew me away, but sometimes simple is better. This isn’t even a critique. I’m just letting everyone know. Krueger has excellent word choice and phrasing. There were many beautiful quotes I found woven throughout the story.
Characters | The characters in this book are phenomenal. I honestly think the character development in this was my favorite part. You witness so much inner-turmoil that you wouldn’t expect a character to have. There is a lot of love and drama between everyone. They all end up knowing each other in some odd way, and I loved that.
You really get a front row seat to see how terrible the Brickmans actually are. They are so coniveing and ruthless. At first you think Clyde is going to be alright, but then you just learn he’s a tool.
Odie was a great protagonist! He goes through so many mental and physical obsticles. He is passionate about who he cares for. One of his flaws is poor judge of character. They managed to find their way into bad situations because of that. He only has good intentions.
“Love comes in so many forms, and pain is no different.”
Overall | Beautiful story. I think this would make a wonderful book club pick! I couldn’t recommend it enough. It is over 400 pages with a lot of words on one page, but I loved every every word. This will definitely make it into my top 5 favorite books of 2019. I can’t wait to buy it and put it on my shelves.
Have you read this yet? If so, let me know your thoughts!
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