“A picaresque tale of adventure during the Great Depression. Part Grapes of Wrath, part Huckleberry Finn, Krueger’s novel is a journey over inner and outer terrain toward wisdom and freedom.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
This book, set in 1932,from the very beginning, gave me the same feeling as I had when I read Treasure Island or The coral island as a child. That same sense of the unknown, a similar spirit and very familiar writing that invoked nostalgia for the times gone by.
The Lincoln Indian training school was reminiscent of the boarding schools in the books of those times, where the children are given very little freedom and cruelly disciplined and spruced up only when a superintendent arrives for inspection. It is a place where the children of Native Americans are housed, either by their parents or forcibly taken away from their parents. They are made to do hard work in the fields and farms of the people of Lincoln and punished severely for any small mistake.
Odie and his brother are orphans and the only white kids in the school. While his brother Albert is one of the obedient ones,Odie risks going to the ‘quiet room’ again and again by refusing to cower in front of the woman in charge, nicknamed the black witch.
One summer, things go too far and Odie and Albert are forced to flee with their Indian friend Mose and Emmy, the little daughter of their favourite teacher.
As they make their way down the Missouri River, hoping to find a safe place, they meet various people that change them not only individually, but also as a unit.
Trying to survive while escaping the eye of the public and the police, they meet friendly people who help them, scary people who take advantage of them and work them hard, a revival tour head who gives them a sense of belonging and hope and various others who in some way or the other move their journey along.
Through the eyes of almost thirteen year old Odie, we see the vulnerability, hope, fear, longing and anger of these kids who all want a place to call home and move towards achieving this in different ways. Though they start together, they all change during the course of their trip and that’s what the story is about.
It’s a story that tugs at the heart and makes you want everything to go right for these kids who you feel deserve all the happiness this world can offer them.
Definitely one of my best reads this year.
Added 22nd May 2020
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
This splendid homage to Mark Twain is a coming of age story involving four children and their quest for freedom.
The brothers Odie and Albert O’Bannion are the only white children In a school for Indian children in Minnesota. Obie is the narrator of the story. They, along with Mose, a young Indian boy who cannot speak, will with Emmy, a young local girl who lives near the school, flee the area in search of freedom.
The youngsters will be forced to run because of a terrible crime one of them commits by accident.
The school is a bad place for these boys. They are treated with cruelty and they can only dream of another life. When they are forced to leave, they take to the rivers, traveling by canoe heading towards the Mississippi, where the brothers believe an aunt of theirs lives. It is the time of the depression, so there are many other travelers they will run into, both good and bad.
There will be a faith healer, a lonely alcoholic farmer, a family stuck in a Hooverville because of an alcoholic father who drinks up all of their assets so they can’t afford the gas they need to return to Ohio and an older Indian who also wanders the land.
These people will have dramatic effect on the fortune of these children. They make this story so reminiscent of Mark Twain and even Charles Dickens and how their character driven stories held us enthralled from beginning until end.
One of the best books of the year in my opinion, I would place this in the must read category.
A real page turner. Highly recommended.
Added 23rd October 2019
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
A beautiful and memorable book, This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger held me spellbound from the beginning to the very last page. Set during the Great Depression, the book opens in the Lincoln School in 1932 Minnesota.
The residential school houses mostly Native American children who have been forcibly separated from their families, and forbidden to use their own languages or follow their own customs. Into the mix are added brothers Odie and Albert O’Bannion, sons of an itenerant grifter.
When Odie’s high spirits get him into trouble, the brothers, along with their friend Mose and Emmy, the newly orphaned daughter of a kind local woman decide to steal a canoe and make a break for it by sailing down the Mississippi.
Odie and Albert hope to find their Aunt, but with only childhood memories of what her house and neighborhood look like, finding her in St Louis will be a challenge. Along the way the group make friends and encounter foes as their journey becomes both a spiritual and physical challenge.
The prose throughout the book is nothing short of stunning, every word is carefully chosen and one does not have to read the author’s note at the end of the book to know that this has been a real labour of love for him. Odie and his companions have become firm favourites , each is special but it is the bond between them and the strength of their friendship that makes the book truly special.
It is a wonderful blend of a coming of age story and an epic adventure, and so much more besides. The author has done a truly wonderful job of bringing the book’s setting to life, and the attention he lavishes on all the supporting characters more than pays off to make this one of the most special and memorable books I have read in a long time, one that has already become a favourite to be revisited time and time again.
Added 8th September 2019