Reviews for This Tender Land

by William Kent Krueger

Library Journal
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Odie O'Banion remembers 1932, when he was 12 and had one of the great adventures of his life. During the Depression, Odie and his older brother, Albert, were the only white children at the Lincoln Indian Training School. The O'Banions were orphans, while the other children had been taken from their parents to have their native cultures and languages beaten out of them. Mrs. Brickman, "the Black Witch," oversaw the abusive school, and after the tragic death of a protector, Odie and Albert fled, along with two other "vagabonds," taking to the river to escape. There they find kindness and assistance in unexpected places. Krueger's second coming-of-age story is not the sequel to Ordinary Grace; it's his version of Huckleberry Finn or the Odyssey, as adolescents are forced to move toward adulthood. It's a remarkable story of a search for home that also reveals the abusive treatment of Native American children in schools and the wanderings of people during the Depression. VERDICT Readers expecting an actual mystery from crime writer Krueger might be disappointed, but those who want to read about the mystery of life will discover what one of Odie's companions observes. "You tell stories but they're real. There are monsters and they eat the heart of children." [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/19.]—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN

Publishers Weekly
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This lively but heavy-handed adventure from Krueger (Ordinary Grace) follows four orphans as they search for safety in Depression-era Minnesota. Storytelling scamp Odysseus “Odie” O’Banion and his more rule-abiding brother Albert are shipped off to the Lincoln Indian Training School after their bootlegger father is murdered. There, along with dozens of Native American children, they endure brutal abuse and neglect; the only bright spot is their friendships with Mose, a teenage Sioux, and Emmy, a precocious girl whose mother, a teacher at the school, is killed by a tornado. After Odie kills the teacher who’s been abusing him, the four children escape down the Minnesota River in a canoe, meeting both friends and foes along the way as they try to evade capture, find a home, and hold onto the bond between them. The encounters bring the era to life as the children meet traveling evangelists, Dust Bowl farmers in shanty towns, and ghettoized Jews in the flats of St. Paul. Krueger keeps the twists coming, and the constant threat of danger propels the story at a steady clip. Though overly sentimental prose (“With every turn of the river, we were changing, becoming different people, and for the first time I understood that the journey we were on wasn’t about getting to St. Louis”) weakens the story’s impact, Krueger’s enjoyable riff on The Odyssey will satisfy fans of American heartland epics. (Sept.)

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Minnesota, 1932. Twelve-year-old orphan Odie and his 16-year-old brother, Albert, are the only white students at the Lincoln Indian Training School. When Odie accidentally kills a fiendish school employee, he, his brother, their Sioux friend Mose, and a bereft little girl, Emmy, whose single-parent mother has been killed by a tornado, must flee by canoe down the nearby Gilead River. And so their adventure begins, narrated by Odie, who is a born storyteller who often entertains his companions with tales. The way to their planned destination, St. Louis, is a checkered one: a one-eyed, troubled man named Jack holds them captive; a bounty hunter nearly captures them; they find respite with a revival tent show; Odie falls in love; and more. Theirs is more than a simple journey; it is a deeply satisfying odyssey, a quest in search of self and home. Richly imagined and exceptionally well plotted and written, the novel is, most of all, a compelling, often haunting story that will captivate both adult and young adult readers.--Michael Cart Copyright 2010 Booklist