*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Title: This Tender Land
Author: William Kent Krueger
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Synopsis from Goodreads:
1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, 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 unforgettable summer, these four orphans will 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.
I haven’t read any really serious historical fiction in a while, so This Tender Land was a nice change of pace. It is the story of two orphaned boys, left in the care of a Residential School in the United States. Although they are the only non-indigenous boys at the school, Odie and Albert, ar e not treated much differently than their peers, at least in Odie’s case. Albert, the elder, is at the top of his class academically and has made friends with the overseers with his good behaviour. From the outside, it doesn’t seem like Odie’s behaviour is too unruly, however it’s as though a target is painted on his back and he is punished to hard labour, no food, and isolation regularly. Violence and cruelty are at the heart of their school’s ruling philosophy. Joy is found in quiet friendships, and occasionally with a select few of the gentle-hearted instructors. Told from Odie’s perspective, we see the world through the eyes of a child who’s lost nearly everything that is good in his life.
Not only is this novel a historical coming-of-age, it’s also an epic adventure spanning the northern state of Minnesota that sees this young group of vagabonds encounter people struggling in all sorts of ways through the depression-era United States. Their young, trusting hearts are fearful, yet seek out the good in people. This is truly a story of human connection and of friendships forged, as Odie and his peers look past their own fear to make genuine connections with those around them. In trying to find safety, they not only discover who they are as young people, and what their world is truly like. Though they encounter some evil and devastation, they also begin to discover that forgiveness and redemption are not only possible, they are not so far from reach. Though they are all orphans, they are united and begin to understand that family doesn’t always have to be those you are related to. Family can also be those that you choose to align with and surround yourself with.
This was a solid and quick read for anyone who’s in need of a good distraction right now. It’s not making my top ten list of favourite books, however, it really stands as a strong exploration of history, childhood, adulthood, love, forgiveness, and family.