This Tender Land

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

4.5 stars

I didn't enjoy this as much as Ordinary Grace, and my five stars come with a disclaimer. This wasn't what I thought it would be, but it was in every way a fantastic read. I've had this book since May? But I chose to wait and wait and wait and then as I got closer to the publishing date I though oh heck I'll just wait until the library book comes in so I can read the hard copy. I think that worked against me. I had so many outside voices in my head that I was left feeling disappointed. I don't really know why though. So let's discuss...

I LOVE WKK. I LOVE Ordinary Grace. I also really, really like this book. It's themes of forgiveness, sacrifice, family, despair and determination make this most certainly a best book of the year. For some reason though, something just fell short for me and I'm still trying to puzzle it out. With 100 pages left, I started to feel impatient. I don't know if its that I had a mountain of other books I needed to read (library holds/arcs galore) so I was pushing myself to rush it a little faster? I certainly wasn't expecting all this action because this is not the story for that. I somehow felt sort of disconnected in a way at certain points and I don't know why. It's definitely my issue, not the book. It just felt like we were repeating the same circumstances over and over...but it was different enough where I could understand why WKK included that all in there. Would I have changed anything? I really don't think so. Each and every character in this book serves a purpose. (And there are some truly wonderful ones in these pages.) So that is how I felt while reading it. Then I finished it, and I found myself missing it and was sad I couldn't go back to it. Makes so much sense, right?

I know for sure that this is a timeless read. If any future school administrator has a brain, this will most certainly be on a summer reading list in my daughter's future and it absolutely should be. WKK's writing carries such wonderful lessons, but it is done in such an unassuming way. It's so...Midwest. That's all I could think of when I was reading it. It's the Pete Buttigieg of books ladies and gentlemen. (Hopefully, this part of my review ages well and five years from now we won't all scratch our heads wondering who I'm even talking about). 

Anyway, I'm not going to bother with a summary because this book is so well revered already it doesn't need one. I just hope you do yourself a favor and read it. Once you read it, remember it. When you go about your life, put the lessons you learned from it into practice. I know I'm going to try.

Thank you to Netgalley, Atria Books and William Kent Krueger for the opportunity to read and provide an honest review of this book.

Review Date: 9/23/19
Publication Date: 09/03/2019
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Thank you Atria Books and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  

This was a wonderful story of 4 orphans with distinctly different personalities who escape an Indian school and make their way down river to St. Louis.  Along the way, these four take care of each other while encountering dangerous situations as well as a few good people who help them.  

This story reminded me of when I read Huckleberry Finn as a child. Admittedly, I enjoyed this so much more.  I couldn’t predict this ending, but it was wonderfully crafted.  I enjoyed the author’s note at the very end and appreciated his research and creativity in giving his readers a beautifully written tale.
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An eye-opening look at a time of great strife: the Great Depression. The characters and setting are real standouts. Highly recommended read.
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This Tender Land is a story of forging a family when original family has been lost; of finding home in a lonely, often unwelcoming world; but perhaps most importantly it is a story of storytelling itself. Set in 1932, depression-era mid-west, the story begins at an Indian School in Minnesota where two white orphans, Arthur and Odie, their Indian friend Mose, and a local little girl, Emmy, are forced to flee from the school. They take to the river, aiming to eventually find their way to the Mississippi River and their hoped-for goal, St. Louis.

Their travels on the rivers brings them, and we readers, in touch with the largely desperate world around them. They avoid contact with others where possible but can’t help but see the want around them, even as they are hungry, themselves. They experience the good and bad in people, sometimes intense episodes of each. Odie is our narrator, and the storyteller of the novel. Initially I had a little difficulty with this narrator’s apparent omniscience, but over time, and definitely by the end, this was resolved.

This is my first experience reading Krueger and I am glad we have finally met. This is another recommended book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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Let me start this review by saying that Historical Fiction is almost the last genre I ever choose to pick up. That being said, the way that William Kent Krueger writes Historical Fiction will have me picking up every single book that he writes. I learned more reading Ordinary Grace and now This Tender Land than I ever did in any American History class that I ever took. 

This Tender Land is set in 1932 during the time of The Great Depression. The story follows 13 year old (well almost) Odie, his brother Albert, his Sioux friend Mose, and young Emmy as they escape from the Lincoln Indian Training School and strike out on an adventure to save, and find, themselves. This novel includes heartbreaking history of what it was like for the Sioux people during this time period, the shanty towns knowns as "Hoovervilles," and just how harrowing The Great Depression was on people of all races and statuses. 

Krueger also has an incredible knack for questioning faith and what we should expect of our "God." I personally identify as more spiritual than religious myself but Krueger consistently packs a punch that makes me question my own beliefs. 

His writing is beautiful and interesting and thoughtful and you will not be disappointed in the story telling.
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-DESCRIPTION-
An epic story that spans the United States of two brothers, a friend, and a little girl.  All attempting to find their true hearts desire during The Great Depression.

-THOUGHTS-
1. This book is a wonderful mark of historical fiction and life during The Great Depression. The desperation during that time and the scum that took advantage.
2. Krueger's writing is beautiful and his descriptions are spot on.  You will feel as though you are truly on this journey with these four vagabonds.
3. Although a lengthy book...don't let that stop you.  It's a book about what family is.  Love. And how that fierce protectiveness can drive, even the youngest person.

-RATING-
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5
I highly recommend this book.

-SIMILAR RECOMMENDED READS-
The Great Alone
Rust & Stardust
Before We Were Yours
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Another absolutely amazing story by Mr. Krueger! This man has an incredible gift of storytelling. I look forward to the next story by him - I will be the first in line once again. (If you haven't read Ordinary Grace I highly, highly recommend that one too.)
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I stayed up way past my bed time last night finishing  This Tender Place by William Kent Krueger.   The publishers said its for fans of Where The Crawdads Sing.  I hate when a book is being promoted on another book’s fame, but in this case I am not mad about it because I understand why they can be likened to each other.   I actually think TTP is better because there wasn’t a dual timeline which is a trendy hook I dislike.  In TTP we stay with the kids in 1932 and it’s fantastic!! This Tender Place will be in my top 5 of the year, and will probably be in many “best of 2019” lists because of the incredible writing, memorable characters, lots of drama and the very satisfying end.   If you are looking for a book with substance I highly recommend it!
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“We breathe love in and we breathe love out. It's the essence of our existence, the very air of our souls.” 

This book is one of the most beautifully written novels I have ever read. I tried to take my time and soak up every word, but found myself unable to put it down. This is a story about four orphans who flee from the school where they live after years of torment and tragedy. 

This novel has breathed new life into my reading, this is one of the most moving novels I have read. I feel like the author poured his whole heart into these characters and their story. This is about forgiveness, growing up, finding your own way, and what a true family is. This is set in the 1930's and it shows the harshness of the Great Depression. But it also shows the kindness and helpfulness of strangers as people learn to lean on each other through these hard times. These characters are interesting and complex. They have found their way into my heart and I was so invested in their story.

Oh I just loved this book so much! I think it may be my favorite of the year...

"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 a part of what connects us to this land, Buck. This beautiful, tender land.”  

 Now excuse me while I go read everything William Kent Krueger has ever written.
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A delightful and uplifting read about a group of four orphan kids on the run from their school and police authorities against the landscape of American Midwest society on the verge of the Great Depression.  Krueger is known by many fans for his crime series set in rural Minnesota featuring Cork O’Connor.  However, he reached a wider audience with his wonderful standalone coming-of-age novel “Ordinary Grace” (2013), starring two brothers and set in 1961.  This new one also has two young brothers, the narrator Odie, age 13, and Albert, 17, who in the summer of 1932 are struggling with survival in the oppressive, totalitarian environment of a residential school for Native Americans.  Such schools in the U.S., Canada, and Australia were the institutional solution to erasing Aboriginal culture under the precept of “kill the Indian, save the man.”  

The conditions at the school are indeed horrific, details of which I refrain from revealing.  Albert is pragmatic and protective, cynical about human nature, while Odie (like his namesake Odysseus) is romantic, crafty, and impulsive, forever spinning stories to make meaning of their experiences.  When Odie takes the risk of close attachment t others, Albert warns him:  “Listen, Odie, don’t you go to caring too much about other people.  In the end, they just get taken from you.”  When Odie feels a balm from a sermon about God as being like a shepherd, Albert initiates this exchange:

" “Listen, Odie, what does a shepherd eat?'
I didn’t know where he was going with that, so I didn’t reply.
'His flock,' Albert told me, 'One by one.' "

Another way the tale escapes a simplistic melodrama of good versus evil is the fascinating depth Krueger imbues the personalities of the children’s nemeses, the superintendent Thelma Brickman and her main henchman, husband and preacher Clyde.  Their secret nefarious activities comprise a pervasive mystery chipped away at throughout the story to its dramatic ending.  Let me just say that extreme events take place which lead the brothers to escape via canoe on a river with their best friend, the Sioux teenager Mose, who is mute, and a kindergarten-aged girl Emmy, who is a newly minted orphan due to a tornado strike and slated for the ominous fate of being adopted by the Brickmans.  The book jacket makes this apt summary:

"Over the course of this unforgettable summer, Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy carefully make their way through the small river towns and big cities filled with people who are by turns desperate and generous, cruel and kind.  As they search for a place to belong, these four remarkable children will lose their innocence, but gain the strength to survive in the face of terrible loss."

Pursued by a police manhunt for kidnapping and minions of the Brickmans, the band keeps trying to hold to the dream that they can make it all the way to the Mississippi and St. Louis, where they hope that a distant relative of the brothers will take them in.  But they keep undergoing barriers and travails that test their courage and moral fiber.  They are “band of brothers” on a journey to find a haven as well as on a quest for identity, the dangers and heroic adventures of which are analogized in a fairy tale story Odie spins out in episodes along the way to sooth and inspire hope in Emmy.  In the story, four characters who christen themselves as the “Vagabonds” are given a mission to rescue children from an evil, carnivorous witch and thereby realize their true heart’s desires.  The band in this story-within-a-story include a wizard, an imp, a giant, and a fairy princess, which respectively correspond to Albert, Odie, Mose, and Emmy.  In a period when the real characters come under the protection of one Sister Eve, the evangelical star of a traveling tent-revival operation, she reveals to them her special power to read people’s emotions and desires, the basis for her reputation as a “seer”.  Odie draws out these answers from her:

“What did Albert want?”
“What he’s always wanted.  To protect you.  In his heart, he thought he’d failed.”
…”What about Mose …what does he want?”
“To know who he is”
…What about me?  What do I want?”
“You’re the easiest of all, Odie.  The only thing you’ve ever wanted is home.”

Thus you can begin to see how this novel stands well on the shoulders of the “Wizard of Oz”and “Huckleberry Finn”, not to mention the obvious, Homer’s “Odyssey.”  I notice that my associative responses to the character of Frank in Krueger’s “Ordinary Grace” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/584811631) applies equally well to “This Tender Land”: 

"Frank’s empowerment through his quest for buried truths takes on mythic proportions comparable to the coming of age tales in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Stephen King’s “Stand by Me.” The novel is not of their stature, but it satisfied me in the same way."

One potential element of criticism might be a charge of cultural appropriation for Krueger placing his two white characters in a residential Indian school.  Part of his solution for success in avoiding that charge was to portray the main Indian character, Mose, as a mute with no knowledge of the genocidal history of his tribe.  By such means, the author creates a valid role for his non-Native friends in helping him find his find his “voice”.  This includes sign language communication they can carry out in private (even in the presence of their enemies), as well as sharing his shock and pursuit of the history behind a monument they encounter that marks the site where 38 Sioux were simultaneous hanged in 1862.  This is a shared history that the novel expertly melds with the overall theme of the power of individuals working together to redress the dark forces at play in the story of America.

This book was provided for review by the publisher through the Netgalley program.
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My expectations for This Tender Land were very, very high because I so loved his earlier novel Ordinary Grace. That story focused on a 13-year old boy, his family and a terrible tragedy that completely devastated them all. Like This Tender Land, Ordinary Grace was set in Minnesota, but its era was 1961, rather than the Depression. Ordinary Grace came before my blogging days, but I journaled about every book I read and gave it my very top grade at the time, A+. So why am I talking so much about a book I’m not reviewing? I suppose it’s that I want you to understand how high the bar was set, and why This Tender Land fell short for me.

As the book opens readers meet brothers Odie (the story’s narrator) and Albert, 12 and 16 who ended up at the school four years earlier after first their mother, then their father died. Close to both, is Mose a hulking Native American boy left mute when someone cut out his tongue. Rounding out this group that will soon leave the school is Emmy, the young daughter of one of the school’s teachers who is killed in a storm. While the school has many kind people working there, an awful woman runs it, having more interest in money than the children.

The four flee the school in a canoe, beginning their journey down the Gilead River. Though scared and without any great plan in mind, they have each other and a strong desire to find something more. So, the set up is good, some have compared it Huck Finn by Mark Twain. It’s been SO long since I read Huck Finn that I can’t possibly speak to that, but I can say that for me this book was just okay.

My biggest issue was that I just didn’t care about these kids. I never felt close to them and there was a lot that was hard to buy into. Also, too many lucky coincidences made the story feel forced. For example, communication with Mose was possible for all because it just happened that Odie and Albert’s mother had been deaf and taught them sign language. They in turn taught Mose and Emmy. This ability came in very handy on their quest, but really? Over and over, I had to overlook plot points that I found really difficult to believe.

The story was compelling enough to keep me going, but sadly not one I can truly recommend. Krueger’s writing is gorgeous and the Goodreads ratings are INCREDIBLY high, so you might not want to pay ANY attention to me!

“I’d heard little kids at Lincoln School cry all night long, and I’d heard Mose, too, but I couldn’t recall ever hearing a man cry this way. It made me think that no matter how big we grew or how old, there was always a child in us somewhere.”

If you’re a great lover of Depression era historical fiction, or particularly like stories centered on children, then This Tender Land may work very well for you.
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Unpopular opinion time as all I have seen are rave reviews. I was at a 4/4.5 for the first 50% of the book and I was onboard with the praise for this book. After the midway point I could no longer tolerate the 12 year old boy narrator, I mean I get it, he's 12, so he is supposed to be emotionally immature. However, there was zero growth even after the multiple trials and tribulations this child experienced . By the end of the book, Odie was still struggling to understand the basics of empathy and still had zero critical thinking skills. Odie continually makes terrible choices and he is incredibly self-serving and self-centered. 

I think this book could have been a 4 or 5 star rating if the narrator switched between Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy. It would have for sure had a 5 star rating if there was a central narrator of an indigenous person, perhaps the character Hawk Flies at Night. I couldn't help but feel that a story that was rooted in the horrors and realities of indigenous white washing schools was overwhelmingly a story about a 12 year old white boy that made it all about his own problems. My other issue with this story is that it relies on multiple character deaths or near-deaths to progress the story. The premise of the story, and the adventure alone should have been enough to propel the story forward so it just felt like a lazy thematic element reminding the reader of the tenuousness of life and death.

It's an easy read, but Krueger hammers you over the head with the same symbolism and high school level thematic elements. I could definitely see this being assigned to a 10th grade English class for students learning about literary elements for the first time. The harmonica and constant theme of music, the tornado god and other religious elements, the black witch... it was all just too much. For the critical reader, it's incredibly annoying.
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This was an excellent historical fiction book.  You are drawn into the story of four orphans and the journey they take in an effort to find a home that allows me a safe place to grow into the people they are meant to be. 
But you don't just follow their story, you are presented with information about the Great Depression, the injustices Native Americans endured, the way people abuse the power bestowed upon them, the dynamics of family relationships, as well as friendships that develop through the difficulties the characters experience.

There were so many facets to the story.  Your heart will ache at the tragedies and horrors the children in the story face.  You will cheer them on as they begin to develop relationships and understand more about themselves and who they are deep inside.  The back-and-forth understanding and forgiveness of themselves and others will tug on your heart strings.

And, in the end, how they find the forgiveness of others, of themselves, and of God, is miraculous.

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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I really enjoyed this book! It put me in mind of Huckleberry Finn.  I did not see the twist coming at the end! Would highly recommend!
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Thank you NetGalley and Atria Books for an ARC. 5 epic ⭐️ for this wonderful (and at times heart breaking) book. This, from the book’s synopsis describes it perfectly, “With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.” It was a Huck Finn/Stand By Me mash up. Highly recommend for men or women.
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Odie and Albert have lost their parents.  They are sent to a school for Native American children who must also live there,  Odie and Albert are sent there as the orphanage is full.  They are told the rules and what happens when they disobey.  Odie easily gets into trouble.  Odie and Albert make friends with a mute Native American.  He can hear but not talk,  His name is Mose.  All three of the become friends with a teacher who has a little girl named Emmy.  As time flies by, the teacher tells them that she can get them to live at her home for the summer as she needs help with her farm.  The boys say yes and are excited to live with her for the summer.  Unfortunately an event occurs that kills the teacher so the summer plans are “lost.”  The three boys decide to leave on their own but when Emmy finds out, she wants to go with them.  A decision is made to take Emmy with them as Emmy is so unhappy withe her new parents,  Why is Emmy unhappy?   How do they travel?   Albert is planning on finding their aunt in St. ..Louis where they can hopefully stay.  Will that happen?   Is there a happy ever after?

This novel  is fascinating and reads like a dream.  It was very easy for me to get involved with the characters of this novel.  I ended up caring very much about what happened to them.  Their journey was an adventure with unexpected twists and turns,  some of it was rather scary.  They meet farmers struggling, traveling faith healers, families with no homes, and others.  The novel grabs your heart without realizing it until you finish the book.
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This Tender Land is a coming of age historical novel that follows four young orphans as they make the journey to St. Louis during the summer of 1932. This was my first William Kent Krueger book and I was very impressed by his beautiful prose and rich storylines.

I loved getting to know the four main characters and following along with them on their journey which included many hardships and included important parts of American history from this time period. There were lighter moments but I would not classify this as an easy read. There were many tough topics that Krueger included and you can tell from his writing that he did his research. I did really enjoy their quest to find "home" and help them realize what the definition of "family" really means. 

This is definitely a character-driven novel and it was one of those books that came together slowly for me. There are heavier and important moments that I don't want to downplay but it did, at certain points, feel a bit tedious. I did love seeing their journeys both literally and figuratively as they navigated this trek.

If you enjoyed Where The Crawdads Sing, it felt like a similar reading experience for me. The ending felt very satisfying and the detailed multi-layered characters added so much to this rich storyline.
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This Tender Land introduces us to the Lincoln School in Minnesota, 1932 .  A school that is run by a women with less than stellar convictions for children’s wellbeing, after all most are native Americans.  Some of the instructors are caring people who work with the children while others are monsters that should not be allowed near any child.  It is into this atmosphere we are introduced to our four main characters of Odie, Albert, Emmy and Mose.  Four children who are left at the hands of the “black witch”.  They leave on an epic journey to find a place to be safe.  A home for them, where they are safe, fed warm and loved. They journey down the river into the great Mississippi from Minnesota, while being hunted by the “black witch” and her minions.

The journey is a physical feat, but also one of growth and understanding.  They meet so many people struggling to survive, a landscape that is guided by the rise and fall of the river seasonally and the horrid conditions of the depression with huge groups of displaced people.  I loved how Odie was the narrator and how the book followed his not yet thirteen year old understanding of the world.  I enjoyed how they were family and understood so little about each other and themselves.  They were brave and fearless, full of hope and need, looking for their place in the world.  

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger is a wonderful read of an epic journey along a sweeping river of change.
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The TENDER LAND is one summer’s journey for a band of children seeking refuge from a terrible situation during the Depression.  Or so author William Kent Kruger would have the reader start his book believing and he does write well with prose that causes the mind to soar with imagination.  But as the story progresses, this band of children meet an assortment of people and learn lessons beyond what would seem possible even for the times.  It is towards the end that we realize Krueger has re-written the Odyssey with this new set of characters and location.  His work is engaging and brave.  This is a fascinating book, not easily forgotten.  I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
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A courageous story of a makeshift family of orphans. So much love can be found within the pages of this book. As these three boys and little girl seek out the love and freedoms of the world they’ve never had, on the river. They find a safe place within this family they create, the bonds of which are tested as life’s realities come to light. They see the goodness and the harshness of humanity as they meet all kinds of people along their journey. I was inspired by how these kids took the very little kindness life had given them and let that shape their character, taking all the bits of good they encounter in. This book showcases love and kindness in an endearing way, Mr Krueger is a masterful storyteller. I fell in love with Odie, his stories and the beautiful way he sees the world and the people in it and was reminded to continue to hope that people can be as good as you believe they are.
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