This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

TitleThis Tender Land
AuthorWiliam Kent Krueger
FinishedJanuary 6, 2023
My Rating★★★★

I recommended The Lincoln Highway to my friend Grant; in return he gave me a copy of this novel. Odie O’Banion and his brother Albert are placed at the Lincoln School, one of the schools where Native American are housed and “educated”.  At the school

“Some of the girls knelt on the sidewalk with buckets and brushes, scrubbing the concrete clean. Who cleaned sidewalks that way? It was a useless chore, one we all knew was meant to drive home to the girls their complete dependence and the school’s absolute control.”

Page 12

Odie is a troublemaker – which is what one is labeled when you stick up for yourself – and when a crisis arises he flees along with Albert,  their Native American friend Mose, and a brokenhearted young girl named Emmy. They hop in a canoe and head down a river toward the Mississippi toward St Louis where Odie hopes to find a releative. They spend the next few months evading the merciless and relentless Mrs Brickman and her husband who run the school.

Mrs Brickman is described in terms of fire implements throughout the story. At one point Odie says 

“the superintendent reminded me of nothing so much as the long, slender handle of a fireplace poker”

Page 10

and later

“The sight of Thelma Brickman, thin and dressed all in black so that she looked like a burned matchstick.”

Page 255

As one would expect of a story of kids on the run, they have adventures and problems on their journey including being imprisoned in a shed and forced to work on a farm for a bad/troubled man. Throughout his travels, Odie struggles with the concept of a benevolent, caring God, but rather sees the “tornado God” at work wreaking destruction at every turn. They also connect with good-hearted people; most notably Sister Eve and her traveling evangelical group. Odie becomes separated from his comrades but they eventually reunite in St Louis. 

Does Odie regain his faith? Well, you’ll have to read the book. Telling you here wouldn’t be any fun, right?

This is a page-turner with clearly drawn heroes and villains; it provides all you would hope for in a story of kids on a journey to adulthood. If you like Huckleberry Finn, Where the Crawdads Sing, Raft of Stars, or The Lincoln Highway, you’ll enjoy this book. 

The journey down river is  common hero journey as described by Joseph Campbell. The cross-cultural image of a hero’s journey over water – a theme written large in Huckleberry Finn and prominent in Raft of Stars and Where the Crawdads Sing. Speaking of a hero journey; you’ll find out Odie’s full name at the end of the story.

One thought on “This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

  1. I loved this book. It got Manny and I started reading a whole series of Kent Krueger detective novels also. I think you and I could be in the same book club!

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