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This Tender Land

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In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota's Gilead River, the Lincoln Indian Training School is a pitiless place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to Odie O’Banion, a lively orphan boy whose exploits constantly earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Odie and his brother, Albert, are the only white faces among the hundreds of Native American children at the school.

After committing a terrible crime, Odie and Albert are forced to flee for their lives along with their best friend, Mose, a mute young man of Sioux heritage. Out of pity, they also take with them a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy. Together, they steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi in search for a place to call home.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphan vagabonds journey into the unknown, crossing paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, bighearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.

450 pages, Hardcover

First published September 3, 2019

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About the author

William Kent Krueger

99 books9,522 followers
Raised in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, William Kent Krueger briefly attended Stanford University—before being kicked out for radical activities. After that, he logged timber, worked construction, tried his hand at freelance journalism, and eventually ended up researching child development at the University of Minnesota. He currently makes his living as a full-time author. He’s been married for over 40 years to a marvelous woman who is an attorney. He makes his home in St. Paul, a city he dearly loves.

Krueger writes a mystery series set in the north woods of Minnesota. His protagonist is Cork O’Connor, the former sheriff of Tamarack County and a man of mixed heritage—part Irish and part Ojibwe. His work has received a number of awards, including the Minnesota Book Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, and the Friends of American Writers Prize. His last five novels were all New York Times bestsellers.

"Ordinary Grace," his stand-alone novel published in 2013, received the Edgar Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America in recognition for the best novel published in that year. "Windigo Island," number fourteen in his Cork O’Connor series, was released in August 2014.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 17,420 reviews
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
991 reviews2,760 followers
July 14, 2022

After reading this book I think there should be a separate genre for incredibly well written books that will endure the test of time, this is truly a “masterpiece”. It is literary fiction, adventure, mystery, a lesson in morality and forgiveness, and so much more. To understand this book you really MUST READ it, and I seldom say that about a book. It is every bit as good as Ordinary Grace by this author.

The time frame for the book is during the Great Depression, it’s 1932 and we will follow the exploits and adventures of four “vagabonds” which they named themselves. All four of the children were orphans, one a Native American. In the author’s notes Mr. Krueger states: “The river voyage upon which Odie O’Banion and his fellow Vagabonds embark in the summer of 1932 is a mythic journey. The reality of the Great Depression landscape that serves as it’s backdrop, however, was etched into the memory of many”. The Great Depression was hard on almost everyone, but it was particularly devastating to families.”

The story opens at the Lincoln School for Native American children. The idea for this school was to take children from their families, have them be boarders at the school and take the “Indian” out of the children.They were stripped of their heritage in every way, they were forbidden to speak their native language, taken from their families and the homes in the wilderness that they had known. The reality of the school, however, was that there was a lot of physical and mental abuse wrought upon these children. There was little good food and clothing and lots of punishment.

The four travelers who decide to escape the school are Odie and Albert O’Banion, who were in this school because the county school for orphaned children was full. Mosie is a Native American who cannot speak for reasons I will leave you to discover, then there is six year old Emmy who is terrified of the Brinkmans and beg the group to take her with them when her mother was killed in the wake of a tornado.

The novel is narrated by Odie. They travel the Gilead river in Minnesota and meet many people, some kind, some terrible who use the children as farm labor and more.The children endure much suffering and do a lot of soul searching, trying to find what they are really looking for, which for Odie is “home”. They are also constantly aware that the Brinkmans who run the school are trying to find them by all means, it is little Emmy that they really want back, to raise as their own. They also want the money and papers that the children took as “insurance” against the Brinkmans if they are ever caught.

As I read this book I felt as Odie stated in the book “With every turn of the river since I’d left Lincoln School, the world had become broader, its mysteries more complex, its possibilities infinite”.

This is a beautifully crafted novel, the prose flows like the river and I truly felt myself getting lost in the story. I cared deeply about each of the children. I also learned about shantytowns and how much the depression hurt everyone and sometimes turned neighbors against neighbors in their search for work and a means to support themselves and their families. There are so many characters, wonderfully described that I couldn’t even begin to name them all or this review would be many pages long.

This is absolutely one of the best books that I have read in the past year. I recommend it to everyone, from teenagers looking to learn a little bit about the past, to everyone else who want to revisit that time period and follow a wonderful adventure.

Many thanks to the author, the publisher, and Wendy Sheanin VP of retail sales for providing me with an ARC of this amazing novel.

Publication date is set for September 3, 2019, don’t miss it!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
June 9, 2019
When one reads a book that is almost 500 pages, and upon completion is not ready for the book to end, in fact could continue on for another 500 pages, then you know a book deserves 5 stars. At least for me. Four children, three horribly mistreated at the Lincoln school for Indians, make a life changing journey. Although only one boy is a Native American, all are orphans. All have no choice but to be on the run. All will change in big and small ways during this journey.

Although this may sound like a YA novel, it is not, it deals with adult issues. It takes place in the shadow of the Great Depression, when many are homeless and finding different ways to live. These children each have a different talent, and have formed themselves into a new family called the Vagabonds. They crawled into my heart and nested there, are still there this morning, though I finished this last evening. . On their journey they find those who will help, and those who would hurt. Riding the rails, Hoovervilles, and a traveling healing show, are some historical happenings during this time period. All the main characters in this book have their own stories, are all interesting characters, good or bad. Although Odie is our main narrator, telling this story when he is in his eighties, one gets a good sense of what each character is made out of, who they are. Watching them change on their journey is a joy.

It can be likened to Huck Finn and his journey on the river. A little Wizard of Oz, because these children are looking for a home, and meet many who offer them different things. Yes, some are even evil, with evil intentions. But ultimately, it is about finding family in different places, about loyalty, finding oneself, and finding a safe place to land. It left me feeling hopeful, a little nostalgic, bittersweet and just a little sad. For me it was an amazing reading experience, one I hope future readers will share.

ARC from Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
June 24, 2019

The best historical fiction doesn’t just take me to the time and place depicted in the story. It takes me into the heart and soul of people who lived there and then. This is precisely what William Kent Kruger has done in this beautifully written story of four orphans on their journey to find safety, home, and love while discovering themselves along the way. He does this with characters who are everything to this telling of history, whose stories tell of the extreme hardships of the Great Depression, of the injustices and harm done to Native American children in the government sponsored boarding schools, a blemish on our history; with characters whose faith is tested in the meaning of home, of friendship, of family, of forgiveness, of God. Twelve year old Odie O’Banion is a story teller and what a storyteller he is - conveying what happened to him and his his older brother Albert, along with Mose, the strong American Indian boy who can only speak by signing and little Emmy who is special in so many ways, when they escape the harms done to them at Lincoln Indian Training School.

This book is over 450 pages and there’s not a wasted word. I’ll leave plot details to others but just say that on their journey from a small town in Minnesota to St.Louis, they encounter dangerous situations and trials, mean spirited people like the ones they are running from, but also kind and generous people who will restore theirs and the readers faith in humanity. They find people suffering the losses of the Great Depression, some of whom have lost homes, reminders of the awful things done to Native Americans, but there will be the beautiful music that Odie plays on his harmonica and the fabulous stories he tells of The Vagabonds to help get them through some of the harder days. While the book reflects so much that is true, it is a work of fiction and there will be times when your imagination will be tested, but it is worth the testing.

You shouldn’t skip the author’s note in the end which describes his research process, not just reading books but by traveling to places where the characters traveled. In a letter to readers at the beginning of the book, Kruger writes, “In asking you to read This Tender Land, I am, in a way, offering you my heart.” What can I say to that except, thanks to you for touching mine.

This ARC was provided by the publisher, Atria via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,194 reviews40.5k followers
November 8, 2020

This book was a beautiful symphony to my ears, refreshing smell of nature to my nose, healing hands to my soul, heart-warming, emotional touch to my heart, lyrical, poetical, nurturing elements to my brain. There was not much words to express my feelings how I loved this book and how I enjoyed each word, sentence, each of the journey those orphans have taken, each impeccably, meticulously developed characters, each chapter and of course the poetic ending.

I definitely savored it and thought I haven’t read something such an amazing story for so long. It’s the best historical fiction I’ve read on this year.

This book made me cry!
This book made me smile!
This book made me rebel and scream!

This book woke up my anger against unfairness, my unconditional love to the all children, my concerns about never ending fight for the justice, equality and changing the system to create a better world.

This is the moving, heart-wrenching journey of four Native American children, narrated by Odie O’Banion who was just 12 years old but mature enough to take this long journey and a talented story-teller. Other children were Albert, Mose who can only communicate by singing and another gifted, lovely character (Indeed after Odie, she became my favorite, it was impossible to adore her attributes)Emmy.
Their hopes, beliefs, endurances, strengths, survival skills, wisdoms are tested throughout the trip taken place between Minnesota to St. Louis. It was not only a road trip, it was their trip to be grown up and learning the basic rules how to survive in their new world after Great Depression.

They encountered too many merciless, mean, savage people but also they met kind, generous people who extend their helping hands which gave them enough joy, hope to survive the hand the life dealt.
This book is about friendship, bravery, faith, struggle, family, brother and sisterhood and finally importance of acceptance the others’ differences. It was such a pleasurable, tear dropping, saddening, soul-brushing reading. I can happily admit that I enjoyed every second of it.
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,109 reviews2,790 followers
August 4, 2022
My favorite thing about reading books is when I connect to the characters. We don't have to be anything alike but I have to care about them or sometimes, hate them, so much that the people seem real and I want to know what happens next in the story and with the characters. I cared about Odie, Albert, Mose and Emmy but also, I cared about so many other characters in this book.

The story takes place during the summer of 1932, right before Odie turns thirteen. He and his sixteen year old brother Albert are the only white children at the Lincoln School, an institution for Native American children, who were forcibly removed from their families, in order to eradicate as much of their culture from them as possible. The school is a horrible place, with the children doing manual labor of all kinds for the benefit of those willing to take advantage of free child labor. Also included in the school experience were beatings, sexual abuse and lock ups in a primitive cell. Odie was a frequent visitor to that cell because he couldn't abide by the harsh ways of the school and spoke up on numerous occasions.

That summer, several things happen that lead to Odie killing a man and the Odie, Albert, Mose and Emmy must go on the run. They plan to find their aunt who lives in St Paul and ask her to take them in but the journey is fraught with danger, hunger, and often a feeling of hopelessness that rivaled their time at the home. The characters make this story for me, that and Odie's story telling, which may or may not be always accurate, as he tells the story in his eighties.

Pub September 3rd 2019

Thank you to Atria books and NetGalley for this ARC.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,018 reviews2,517 followers
January 9, 2021
I’d give this one more than five stars if I could. I am a huge fan of Willian Kent Krueger and absolutely loved Ordinary Grace. I wasn’t sure anything could top it. Well, hard to say if this is better, but it’s equally as good. WKK is just such an amazing writer. He’s got it all, well turned phrases, engaging plot, characters that draw you in immediately and feel so real you’re convinced you’ve met them.

“Home is where the heart is.” And Odie, Albert, Moses and Emmy are all looking for their own versions of home. Odie, Albert and Moses are all orphans at the start of the book and never really had homes. Emmy loses her mother in a freak accident. When they’re all forced to flee, they take to the river. Told over the course of one summer, the book paints a perfect picture of the 1932 Midwest - farmers desperate to survive, faith healers, folks living in Hoovervilles.

This book tugs at your heart. I will admit to crying more than once. It deals with loss in so many forms, but also the faith to survive and move forward and the need to forgive. “Of all that we’re asked to give others in this life, the most difficult to offer may be forgiveness.”

This book seems destined to be a modern day classic. WKK cites Twain, Homer, Sinclair Lewis and Dickens as sources of inspiration. He has done an inordinate amount of research, which he outlines in his Author’s Note. But as he also states, “the river voyage upon which Odie O’Banion and his fellow Vagabonds embark in the summer of 1932 is a mythic journey.” Or as Odie says at the end of the book, “in every good tale there is a seed of truth, and from that seed a lovely story grows. Some of what I’ve told you is true and some...well, let’s just call it the bloom on the rose bush.” Run, don’t walk, to buy this one as soon as it becomes available. I truly can’t tout it enough.

A huge thank you to netgalley and Atria Books for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,143 reviews2,494 followers
August 5, 2020
2.5 stars
One of my all-time favorite books is Ordinary Grace, a book I gave 5 stars and have read twice, even though I rarely re-read books. I was highly anticipating the author’s new release and was thrilled when offered a review copy by the publisher.

Four orphans escape an abusive situation at a boarding school and set off on a river trip in a canoe bound for St Louis. The trip is not a leisurely one, as the authorities are hot on their trail. Along the way, they meet a variety of people, all trying to make their way in the world under trying circumstances. Some are good, some not so much, and some are somewhere in the middle. They all have lessons to teach as Odie, the main character, attempts to come to terms with his faith and God in a world he find unfair, and where everything and everyone he loves is taken from him.

The author is a wonderful storyteller, the prose is beautiful, the characters well-developed and engaging, and the setting and time period of the Depression years were brought to life. But the story is a long one, my interest flagged, and I found myself fighting the urge to skim. The overall message is heavy-handed and the story took on a farcical fairy tale quality with too many unlikely scenarios and coincidences.

The book has gotten plenty of 5 stars reviews so take my review with a grain of salt. The two books mentioned in the blurb as comparisons (Before We Were Yours and Where the Crawdads Sing) were not books I enjoyed so it’s likely a case of being the wrong reader for this book.

*many thanks to the author and Atria books for a copy of the book for review.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
June 24, 2019

“This Tender Land”, is a mesmerizing tale with wonderful characters, rich themes, extraordinary storytelling, delicious writing....with dialogue that sprinkles gold nuggets in our hearts, gut, and mind.
A couple of times I thought: “Stand By Me” - meets “Deliverance”....meets Huckleberry Finn. It has those ‘type’ of a ‘feelings’.
I’m pleased as a pickle—to say this novel is every bit as good as “Ordinary Grace”...( another book by Krueger that’s one of my favorites).....
starting with a wonderful note to the readers by the author...to the very end....and the wonderful Epilogue.

The experience of having read this novel is pretty special. Its definitely one of the best books this year.,

Twelve year old Odie Banion, narrates the story. Albert, his brother, is four years older than Odie. We get to know these brothers well, as well as many other characters.
The heart of this story focuses on four children - [the Vegabonds]...
Mose and Emmy are the other children that are part of the gang.

There are so many great things to say about this book - the charm of the kids -
Odis’s gift for storytelling himself - his harmonica playing - (music gives him and others solace)....his grappling with God and religion. ( there are many scenes about God: believing or not)...
Themes of grief....loss of parents...coming of age...injustice/ abuse/ and cruelty....family, love, faith... hope....forgiveness...... sacrifice....racial inequality, economic hardships...self-identity...the basic understanding of human nature....
and kinship of protecting those we love.

I discovered symbolism & wisdom.....even from a little rat named “Faria”.....

So much to enjoy about the characters:
Alberta’s intelligence - and awareness-
Emmy’s sweetness and incredible wisdom for such a little girl - all of age six -
Mose who can’t verbally speak - rather speaks sign language ( the other children are also fluent in sign language)....

A rich mixture of adventure - tragedy- and healing......infused with transformative verities.

William Kent Krueger’s novel moves in a current - slow or as tumultuous as whitewater rapids.

ONCE IN A GREAT WHILE, A BOOK COMES ALONG THAT HAS SUCH WONDERFUL CHARACTERS AND MARVELOUS PROSE..... that we read it as much for the pure joy it offers on every page as to find out how it ends. THIS IS THAT BOOK!!!

“From the height of a certain wisdom acquired across many decades, I looked down now on those four children traveling a meandering river whose end was unknown to them.
Even across the distance of time, I hurt for them and pray for them still. Our former selves are never dead”.

Thank You Netgalley, Atria Books, and William Kent Krueger

Profile Image for Mary Beth .
381 reviews1,644 followers
September 3, 2019

The story takes place in the 1930's during the Great Depression in Minnesota. Odie and Albert are two white orphaned teenage brothers who live at the Lincoln school. It's a school for Native American Indian children who are forcibly separated from their parents and sent there to be educated. Four and Albert are forced to live there as well, with the Indians. They were the only two white orphans in the school. Mrs Brickman who was known as The Black Witch was the school superintendant. This school was very abusive.

Albert and Odie escape from the school with their two friends Nose and Emmy. They steal a canoe heading towards Mississippi. They are so happy that they have their freedom and are on a journey. They meet some lost souls and others. They are on a great adventure.

This story was Amazing! It was an epic adventure story. I was glued to the pages from the very beginning. I loved Ordinary Grace but I loved this one more. I loved the journey where this book took me. It reminded me of the story of Huck Finn.If you didn't like that story, I think you will still love this one.
I loved the characters and loved this book more than Ordinary Grace. This book had everything that I loved in a book. This book was so long but I felt like it was very fast paced. I cant believe I waited so long too read this. I knew it was going to good but I wasnt expecting it to be as amazing as it was. I just fell in love with the characters and he brought them to life. This was beautifully written. I felt that when the author writes he paints pictures. I could see everything vividly in my mind while reading it. It amazed me. I think this is one of the best books I ever read. Its so unique and different from other books. I was actually sad when it ended because I wanted more. I wanted this book to go on forever.

This was a Traveling Sister read and so far we all loved it and it was a fun discussion.

I want to thank Netgalley, Atria Books and the author for the arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Available Now
Profile Image for Debra .
2,279 reviews35k followers
June 19, 2019
"I've poured the best of myself into this story and I invite you to experience all of its remarkable twists and turns. As Odie says in the very beginning 'Open yourself to every possibility, for there is nothing your heart can imagine that is not so.' Blessings, -William Kent Krueger

True to his word, William Kent Krueger did pour his heart and soul into this book. His writing is both moving and beautiful. I found myself highlighting large sections of text. He has the heart of a poet. If you have read one of his other books Ordinary Grace you will know what I mean. He has the gift to make everyday events, and ordinary people exquisite. His main character Odie is also a storyteller and this book has passages where Odie is telling stories to his friends.

"The tale I am going to tell is of a summer long ago. Of killing and kidnapping and children pursued by demons of a thousand names. There will be courage in this story and cowardice. There will be love and betrayal. And, of course, there will be hope. In the end, isn't that what every good story is about?"

The book opens as an old man, Odie O'Banion is looking back at his life, specifically back to Minnesota, 1932 when he, his older brother, Albert, and their friends, Moses and Emmy embark on a journey. A journey to escape the horrors that exist at the Lincoln School, a home where Native American children are being educated after being separated from their families. Although, Odie, Albert and Emmy are not Native American they all under the care of the woman who runs the school. As they make their escape, the four meet some interesting people. Some good, some bad, but all with stories of their own.

"Stories are the sweet fruit of my existence and I share them gladly."

The beauty in this book is not just in the wonderful writing, but in the descriptions of the people and the time/era in which they live in. I felt as if I was right there in the canoe as a quiet observer as they made their escape and had their interactions with others. Odie is a young teen when he goes on this journey and matures along the way as he confronts the harsh realities of life. He is not the only character who changes and grows. The others change and grow as well.

There are discussions about God in this book. God as a tornado, God as a savior and God as being part of the land. There is a level of spirituality that runs through the book, but this book is never preachy or overbearing. Some of the characters in this book have faith while other's question theirs. The author is not asking the reader to have it, nor is he trying to cram anything down the readers throat.

"Ask me, 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 to God. Sure, this is hard work, but it's good work because it's part of what connects us to this land, Buck. This beautiful, tender land."

I savored every page of this beautifully written book. This book has a little bit of everything. It has a little bit of magic, a little bit of drama, some history, some romance, coming of age and learning about and knowing yourself. It's also about acceptance, courage, responsibility, friendship, family, and love. Family comes in all forms and these children created a loving cohesive family unit which was a joy to read.

I highly recommend this book. READ IT! When you are done with this book, do yourself a favor and pick up Ordinary Grace and read that as well.

Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thought and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Profile Image for Christine on hiatus, see “About me”.
589 reviews1,134 followers
July 9, 2019
5 +++++ glorious stars

I have been waiting for a long time to say this about a book, and now I can: This novel is a masterpiece. It is William Kent Krueger at his very best - it is clear he threw his entire heart and soul into this book. I will buy a hardback copy (something I never do) and keep it forever.

Set during The Great Depression in 1932 in my home state of Minnesota we follow our protagonist, 12-year-old Odie, and his three fellow travelers (self-dubbed The Four Vagabonds) on their search for “belonging” and “home.” The story is told solely through the eyes of Odie, and the story line is linear. The Four Vagabonds’ journey is not easy; in fact, it is difficult, very difficult. Along the way they meet a variety of different people, many as bad off as they are, but others that are very kind and willing to help them. The Vagabonds endure much suffering, but also display considerable strength and engage in a great deal of soul-searching. Odie finds it difficult to believe in a God who would let these things happen to him and his companions, but he also can’t help but think many of the unfortunate events are unintentionally due to his own actions. He tries to do the right thing, but carries much guilt when things go wrong. This is a spiritual journey, one that I almost felt honored to be on with our characters.

The story is extremely well written. The prose is exquisite. Mr. Krueger has the ability to set a scene and a mood beautifully without excessive words. I have always been awed by his ability to create just the right atmosphere in his stories, and this one is no exception. Of interest, a chunk of the story takes place in the fictional town of New Bremen, Minnesota, the setting of Ordinary Grace, which takes place twenty-nine years later during the summer of 1961.

This Tender Land flows seamlessly and the chapter lengths are just right. As always, Mr. Krueger includes Native American characters in his book, not something I usually look for, but I always learn something by the inclusion of our Native Americans. I came to care deeply for Odie, but could not see a good end for him. This, along with being immersed in events of the odyssey, kept me fascinated and glued to the pages. Best of all, the author includes a wonderful epilogue that gives us the highlights of our characters’ lives over the next several decades. Some things intentionally remain a bit uncertain, but that was fine with me.

After publishing his brilliant Ordinary Grace in March 2013, Mr. Krueger embarked on the writing of a companion piece, also called This Tender Land. He finished the manuscript, but was not satisfied with the end result and did not feel it represented his best work. Much to the disappointment of his publisher, he asked to have the project abandoned so that he could start over with an entirely different concept. That was three years ago. The current version of This Tender Land is the result of the rewrite and is well worth the long six and a half year wait. Best of all, as you will see in the Author’s Note, Mr. Krueger is deeply fulfilled and content with the new version. I think it says a lot about the author that he is unwilling to put out something that was not perfect in his mind. I doubt we will ever see a “co-writer” on any of his books in the future.

Write what you know. I have the feeling that is what William Kent Krueger does here. This Tender Land gives us insight into this man that we saw a glimpse of in Ordinary Grace. I absolutely love his Cork O’Connor series, but I so hope we will see another stand alone novel in a similar vein to these last two. I will happily wait six and a half years to see that happen.

If you only read one book this year, make it be this one.

Many thanks to Net Galley, Atria Books, and William Kent Krueger for gifting me an advanced review copy of this book. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way.
Profile Image for David Putnam.
Author 16 books1,511 followers
November 21, 2019
Great descriptions, great characters, great story, a trifecta in books. The story didn’t grab like I expected it to but I think I had too great of an expectation. I loved Ordinary Grace and had built this one up in my mind. Shortly, though the book did grab and it is every bit as good. In fact, I believe it will be a contender for the Edgar, (and probably win yet again).
The story is an odyssey. It is a little episodic and meanders just a tad until the conflict is set (once we know the little group of nomads have a destination—the Aunts house in St. Louis).
On page 187 when Odie plays his harmonic the description of what the music does to this character is wonderful. It gives the character so much more depth and makes him truly three dimensional.
Reminiscent voice does give some of the tension away, he speaks from the future and its subtle narrator intrusion but this didn’t bother me as much as it could have. Kruger handles the voice of the twelve-year-old narrator nicely just enough of the juvenile blend with the adult reminiscent voice to make it work well. This is very difficult to accomplish proving Kruger to be a master craftsman.
The book is really about the evolution of the characters, subtle and otherwise. Kruger even says as much: “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 just about getting to St. Louis.”
Loved this book and highly recommend.
David Putnam author of The Bruno Johnson series.
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
November 15, 2019
oooh, goodreads choice awards semifinalist for BEST HISTORICAL FICTION 2019! what will happen?

“Maybe it really is like it says in the Bible,” I offered. “God’s a shepherd and we’re his flock and he watches over us.”

For a long while, Albert didn’t say anything. I listened to that kid crying in the dark because he felt lost and alone and believed no one cared.

Finally Albert whispered, “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.”

william kent krueger has written eleventy billion books, and yet this is the first of ‘em i’ve read. i have been missing out.

my deepest pleasure in reading comes from the story, and discovering a gifted storyteller, as simple as that may seem, is as rare as it is exciting. so many authors lack a natural aptitude for storytelling, or are trying too hard to reinvent the wheel, focusing on overworked stylistic zazz at their story’s expense, so when i find an author who can tell a story that sucks me in without resorting to distracting bells and whistles, i am thrilled.

the narrator of this book is a self-proclaimed storyteller, and he’s as good as his word—sensitive, observant, unfussy.

“There’s my star,” she said, pointing toward the upper glimmer in the cup of the Big Dipper.

“Your star? You own it?”

“I claimed it. There are more stars in the sky than people on earth, so there are plenty to go around. I claimed that one because if you follow the line that connects it with the one below, you’ll find the North Star. It helps me know where I’m going. What star is yours?”

“The one below,” I said. “The one that connects and helps show the way.”

that’s a pretty on-the-nose description of what a storyteller is and does, and the novel is actually framed as a story being told; the 80-something-year-old odie o’banion recounting the events of the summer of 1932 to his assembled great-grandchildren. a twelve-year-old orphan at the time, odie was living in minnesota at a school for native american children taken from their parents, forced to disavow their culture and language, under the authority of the brickmans; a relentlessly cruel couple overseeing a staff who, for the most part, exploit the children as farm labor, provide very little food, and use physical and sexual abuse as punishment, sometimes resulting in a child’s death. odie and his older brother albert are the only two white children living at the school, but they are not treated any differently; odie in particular is frequently locked in a room overnight for his infractions with only a rat for company.

their situation at the school becomes untenable, and the brothers are forced to flee, escaping along with their friend moses; a sioux boy whose tongue was cut out when he was only four and communicates using sign language, and little emmy, the newly-orphaned daughter of their beloved teacher. traveling by canoe, they begin to make their way towards st. louis, where aunt julia, the boys’ only living relative, lives. their escape is complicated by the fact that the brickmans, who want to adopt emmy, are in pursuit, claiming she has been kidnapped. coming so soon after the lindbergh kidnapping, the authorities and the press are on high alert, making their getaway that much more difficult.

it’s a straightforward coming-of-age story with light magical realism and motifs drawn from other journey-based narratives like the work of mark twain and the odyssey—there’s even a cyclops. it’s also an excellent historical novel, exposing the children to the realities of life during a national crisis; the hardships and desperation, but also the prevailing sense of community and hope. it’s got all the big-novel themes of good and evil, first love, salvation, friendship and family and all the diverging paths on the search for a home.

it’s also about the pains of growing up and growing apart—although the four of them leave together, it becomes clear along the way that they are also embarking on individual journeys, developing into a wonderfully bittersweet tone.

We risked a fire that night and sat together, talking quietly around the flames, as we had on many nights since we’d taken to the rivers. It began to feel to me as if what had been broken was coming together again, but I knew it would never be exactly the same. 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 just about getting to Saint Louis.

i’m blabbing on and on and i’ve already cut out huge chunks of this overlong reader-response, but it was just so deeply satisfying to my own readerly sensibilities that i got a little carried away.

although they might not be “true” readalikes, this put me in mind of Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance and Circus of the Queens: The Fortune Teller's Fate, and i will definitely check out at least one of the author’s previous eleventy billion nineteen books.

come to my blog!!
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
October 9, 2019
A Nice Read but a somewhat overly sentimental story that dragged and didn't really hold my interest and created little if no excitement in my reading life

I love Kent Krueger's writing, beautiful prose and descriptive passages but this book came across as a little too sentimental and contrived to me as a reader and I found it a wee bit preachy.

Set in Minnesotthe in 1932 The Lincoln School is a sad place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their families are sent to be educated. Odie O’Banion is a resident of Lincon School and has a difficult time staying out of trouble. 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.

While I liked the characters I really didn't find their actions creditable and there were a lot of lucky escapes and coincidences that just didn't work for me in the story. Over descriptive passages made this book drag and I felt this one was padded out and could have benefited from being 100 pages shorter.

I listened to this book on audio and the narration was really good.
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews723 followers
January 31, 2020
Remember this. It's an old saying but a true one. Home is where your heart is.
Wonderful book! As the author describes in his Author's note...: 'The river voyage upon which Odie O'Banion and his fellow Vagabonds embark in the summer of 1932 is a mythic journey'.... Odie and his older brother, young girl Emmy and the silent Indian young guy Mose escape from a sad home for parentless children, brutally run by amongst others a cruel couple. They embark on the river to go and search out an aunt living in Saint Louis in Southern USA. Along the way, they meet a colourful set of characters, good and bad. Full of atmosphere, adventure, character and wonderful storytelling, a lovely bunch of kids devoted to each other, I'm officially a fan of Mr. William Kent Krueger, I think this is my third book of his. Around 4.6 rating, there were some slighly less interesting parts and maybe an edit would have sharpened the book a bit more, on the other hand, the pace and detail befit this story very well. So like a lot of you Goodreads readers, 5 stars! A bit more observation to follow later...
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,438 reviews78k followers
December 11, 2019
As so many reviewers have already written more eloquent and meaningful reviews than I can provide, I'll just state that I can 100% see why William Kent Krueger has such a loyal and passionate following. The atmosphere, the characters, and even the plot progression were all incredibly well done here, and I found myself engrossed in the story and what would happen to this group of kids on the move. If you're looking for an excellent review that will talk you into giving this book a try, please visit my friend Dorie's review HERE. Here's to combing through the author's backlist!

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
Profile Image for Tammy.
511 reviews429 followers
May 9, 2019
A quintessential Midwestern American fable, This Tender Land is a coming of age novel and a tale of an epic journey in the form of homage to The Odyssey and Huckleberry Finn. During The Great Depression, four orphans runaway from an abusive Indian school by canoeing the rivers of Minnesota in order to reach St Louis and the protection of an Aunt. As the river turns, they meet a variety of people along the way struggling to survive the profound effects of the catastrophic economic downturn. Some of these people are as they appear to be while others are not. Through his experiences the narrator and storyteller, Odie, tries to come to terms with God. At times, he believes in the wrathful, vengeful God of the Old Testament and at other times he believes in the loving, forgiving God of the New Testament. Ultimately, this is a novel about searching and recognition including the search for security and home, the search for self knowledge, and the recognition of religious hypocrisy as well as authentic faith.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,133 followers
July 5, 2019

"Of all that we're asked to give others in this life, the most difficult to offer may be forgiveness."

It all begins in HELL and some of what's told here is true.

"What happened in the summer of 1932 is most important to those who experienced it, and there are not many of us left."

Odie O'Banion's life actually began in Missouri Ozark country, but now orphaned in Minnesota, he and older brother Albert need a miracle to get out of Lincoln School, the only white boys in a school for Indian children.

Odie is a tough little ingenious fellow who plays a mean harmonica, tells a great story, and always....always seems to cause trouble resulting in yet another visit to the cell....better known as the quiet room. But don't let the name fool you, it's not so quiet when DiMarco shows up to do Thelma the black-hearted witches' bidding.

Whenever there seems to be a ray of hope for Odie and Albert to escape a horrendous work assignment or the wrath of the witch, disaster or tragedy shows its ugly face.

But one day after a fierce tornado....and another failed plan, Odie, Albert, friend Mose, a Sioux Indian and little gifted Emmy find themselves on the run and wanted by authorities....for much more than just escape from the horrors of the school.

Taking the canoe down the Gilead toward the Mississippi and their new destination is a dangerous journey wrought with many perils, so many they meet desperate and struggling to survive make life scary for the youngsters....and it's not just humans who are looming....there's Lucifer.

THIS TENDER LAND is a wonderful coming-of-age adventure, a story of hard times and hopefulness that carries a religious undertone with children that seem wise and capable beyond their years, but also make poor life-threatening decisions as they venture forward toward their dream of a better future.

As with Krueger's ORDINARY GRACE another winner for this reader!

***What a memorable novel to have as my 200th NetGalley read! Arc provided by Atria Books in exchange for an honest review***

Profile Image for Linda.
1,226 reviews1,274 followers
July 18, 2019
"Nothing is permanent in this world, not even our troubles." (Charlie Chaplin)

William Kent Krueger sweeps aside the present and takes us to an era in American history in which hope was at a far distance and pain and heartache were daily visitors. It's 1932 and the Great Depression has dug its roots deeply into the American landscape. The Haves had far less and the Have Nots had even less than nothing.

The Lincoln School was set upon the banks of the Gilead River in Fremont County in Minnesota. To the outside world it looked to be a refuge for orphaned and abandoned Native American children. But to those who resided within its walls, it was a pit of abuse, shame, and mistreatment. Run by Thelma and Clive Buckman, the Lincoln School threatened children with severe punishment in the Quiet Room while the adults ran amok.

It's here that we meet two brothers, Odie and Albert O'Banion, who were taken there because the county's children's home was full. Mose Washington is a young mute Native American who can never speak of the horror visited upon him as a very young child. Added to the mix is six year old Emmy whose widowed mother dies and she takes to the road with the boys as one of the Vagabonds.

Odie is the breath and the heart of this intriguing story. It is through Odie's eyes and voice that we experience a bold escape in the night. Odie's mischief making finds him almost as a nightly occupant of the Quiet Room in which his only friend is a rat he's named Faria. Faria lives on crumbs tossed in the corner by Odie. Odie's only precious possession is a harmonica tucked in his shirt that he's learned to play with such passion.....passion suppressed by his current surroundings.

I'll let the talented William Kent Krueger take you by the hand as the children escape and take to the river by canoe. Their encounters will reveal the harshness of the times and the cruelty inflicted upon the weak by the strong. The Great Depression was a time of disconnect for some who grabbed what they could at the expense of others. It was also a period of deep compassion and bonding by those who readily recognized the bitter taste of loss and hopelessness in the souls of their fellow Americans. Odie refers to God as the Tornado God who is deaf to the cries of the suffering. "Life warps you in terrible ways."

This Tender Land is a reminder of days long gone in which folks felt a gripping hold from the rivers and lakes and fields that bind us all to this earth. Wherever you stand.....wherever you place your feet.....there is a connection to those who came before us and to those who have yet to leave their imprint. This Tender Land will leave its mark on you, the reader, for some time to come.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Simon and Schuster (Atria Books) and to William Kent Krueger for the opportunity.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,533 reviews32.3k followers
July 3, 2020
if ‘where the crawdads sing’ and ‘before we were yours’ had a baby, it would be this book.

i really have no idea how else to describe this. its the wonderful combination of the reverent fondness for nature and the coming-up-age in a time where children had to look after themselves. its a very compelling story and excellently written.

it is rather lengthy, but then again, some of the best journeys take time. i enjoyed following the ‘vagabonds’ on their adventure to better living. i thought their friendship and the bonds they shared were the glue that held this story together - my heart ached a little each time they got separated. and wow, if i didnt feel emotional reading that epilogue.

overall, this is a very adventurous and heartwarming story that have you believing in the strength of childhood friendships and brotherly love.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
November 5, 2019
For some reason I held off reading this book, but man, was it amazing.

"Everything that’s been done to us we carry forever. Most of us do our damnedest to hold on to the good and forget the rest. But somewhere in the vault of our hearts, in a place our brains can’t or won’t touch, the worst is stored, and the only sure key to it is in our dreams."

Minnesota, 1932. Odie and his brother Albert are orphans, left in the care of a school for Native American children taken from their parents, despite the fact the two of them are white. This school uses the children as slave labor, treats them cruelly, makes them believe they are less than human, and tries to break them of ties to their heritage.

Strong-willed and searching for fairness in a cruel world, Odie is one of the targets of the school’s director, a woman he calls the Black Witch, and her henchmen.

When one day in the midst of a cruel punishment things go horribly awry, Odie realizes he must flee the school. Albert accompanies him on his escape, along with their friend Mose, a Native American boy who cannot speak, and Emmy, a young orphan girl.

The four head out on a journey, an odyssey to get as far from the school as possible. They experience more than their share of trouble as they try to elude capture, but they also encounter people down on their luck, people who teach them that first impressions do not always equal truth. They learn a lot about themselves and their relationships with each other, and how they ultimately must let themselves have hope.

I can’t get this one out of my head. This is such a beautiful, thought-provoking, emotional book, the story of a harrowing journey, children forced to find the bravery of adults, with a little of the mystical thrown in for good measure. I’m once again reminded how talented of a writer Krueger is.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

You can follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 7 books54.6k followers
November 6, 2020
Part Grapes of Wrath, part Huckleberry Finn: this tough and tender coming-of-age story (and Odyssey retelling) focuses on four Minnesota kids during the Great Depression, whose respective situations become ever more impossible due to human cruelty and circumstance. After a tornado demolishes
life as they know it, they realize no one is going to save them—and so they make a plan to save themselves that starts with escaping down the river.

A great story, beautifully told.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,050 reviews578 followers
October 14, 2022
Quite a few of my Goodreads friend have loved this book and consequently I eventually succumbed to its pull despite one or two reservations. I’d enjoyed Ordinary Grace but not quite as much as many others had, for me it just took too long to get going. But this story of four orphans setting off on an odyssey of discovery through the American Midwest did sound promising. Set at the time of the Great Depression, it told the tale of their escape from the grim cruelty of an Indian Training School - brothers Odie and Albert, Sioux teenager Mose and five-year-old Emmy. The brothers aimed to transport themselves and their friends to St Louis, to seek out the only remaining family member they knew of, an aunt who they believed lived in the city. The plan was take a canoe down the Gilead River until it fed into the great Mississippi which would ultimately deliver them to their destination. A hazardous journey in any case, but to add spice to the adventure the boys were being hunted for a perceived crime committed during their escape.

The first section of this story, the scene setting of life in the school, felt to me like something straight out of a Charles Dickens novel: the word ‘grim’ doesn’t do it justice. The boys were treated so badly it’s no wonder they couldn’t wait to escape the school’s confines. But I found it somewhat of a struggle to work through this prolonged saga of mistreatment and abuse. So dark was this section that it was clear that whatever followed could be no worse than life at the school. And once the escape had been made things did brighten a little as the quartet strove to avoid capture and overcome obstacles in their way. They developed necessary survival skills and learned more about themselves and each other as their treacherous journey continued on.

So what’s not to like here? Well, to start with it’s the way the story is told. It’s quite folksy in the telling and this is exaggerated in the audio version I listened to by the overwrought reading of the normally dependable Scott Brick. There’s also a fantastical element to the tale which is introduced in the second half and such devices always switch me off. But more than that, I just failed to make a lasting connection with the characters. Was this prompted by my irritation at the story’s delivery? If truth be told, I’m not sure. That was certainly a dampener for me but there was also a lack of real surprises and the characters throughout seemed rather predictable and stereotypical.

In an afterward, the author explains the genesis of this tale and how schools such as the one featured in this book came into existence, their purpose and how they reflected the culture of the time. I did find this enlightening and it somewhat allayed my doubts as to the believability of such a story. But only partly so. It’s probably a book I’d have lapped up as a young schoolboy, and maybe I'm in a minority in expressing this view, but I’m afraid it really didn’t float my boat (if you'll excuse the pun).
Profile Image for Fran.
639 reviews583 followers
August 27, 2019
"There's no place like home." Four vagabonds are on the run from the Lincoln Indian Training School searching for "safe haven" during the summer of 1932. They will experience hope and despair, cruelty and kindness as they canoe down the Gilead River destined for the Minnesota River then the mighty Mississippi. Final destination: Saint Louis. Who are these vagabond children and what has precipitated this perilous journey? In the words of our storyteller, Odie O'Banion, "Four years of my life [have been] eaten by darkness" at the Lincoln School.

Odie and Albert O'Banion, orphaned at eight and twelve years old respectively, were the only white children placed at the school. The school's mission, brutally enforced by school superintendent Mrs. Brickman, was to "re-educate" the Native American children forced to board there. Mrs. Brickman was nicknamed the "Black Witch" by the student body. Although Odie had a "penchant for rebellion...a strapping preceding time in the quiet room [solitary confinement]" seemed over the top. Odie drew strength from playing his harmonica, often carefully hidden from view. Albert, quiet and cerebral, was handy with tools. He loved to work with motors. He often interceded on Odie's behalf. "...someday you're going to do something I can't save you from." Moses Washington aka "Mose" was a Native American of Sioux ancestry. At the age of four, he witnessed his mother's murder. Mose's tongue was cut out. He communicated through sign language. Mose was arguably the strongest kid in school. The "fourth vagabond" surprisingly was six year old Emmy Frost. Teacher Cora Frost, Emmy's mother, had tragically died in a tornado. Emmy has convulsive fits during which she "verbalizes things". Mr. and Mrs. Brickman wanted to adopt Emmy, however, Emmy was often locked in a bedroom of the Brickman house. She begs Odie, Albert, and Mose to "kidnap" her and take her with them. The foursome flee, intending to canoe the Gilead River.

Leaving the Lincoln School and a dead body behind, the travelers must evade capture, especially after discovering that there was a $500 bounty on their heads for kidnapping Emmy. This was Depression-era Minnesota. On their journey, they experience big city life, small river towns, evangelical tent revivals, meet dust bowl farmers and residents of Hooverville shanties...but...where is home? Each of them needs to find a place to belong.

"This Tender Land" by William Kent Krueger has the makings of a "masterpiece". The protagonists and secondary characters are fully detailed and with such care. I felt as if I traveled with them, experiencing their trials and tribulations, hopes and dreams. I was disappointed at the journey's end. I would have gladly continued to travel with them. Author Krueger has created a "classic".

Thank you Atria Books and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "This Tender Land".
Profile Image for Susanne.
1,159 reviews36.8k followers
August 7, 2019
4 Stars.

A beautifully written character driven novel about the meaning of family and friendship and most of all the definition of home.

It’s 1932 and the Great Depression has hit and hit hard.

In Minnesota, four young orphans attend the Lincoln School - a school for Native American children. Odie and Albert are brothers, Odie is often in trouble for something, frustrating his older brother Albert to no end. Moses, is mute, and uses sign language to converse. Emmy has recently lost everything and is now being cared for by the owners of the school, whose cruelty knows no bounds.

Odie, Albert, Moses and Emmy soon realize that they must make a run for it if they want to survive. Their solution? Fleeing in a canoe on the Mississippi. Four orphans on a journey none could ever have imagined. The waters are treacherous as are some of the people they encounter. There are a few people however whose hearts are quite dear, including Sister Eve, whose magic won me over. On their own this group of four learns to trust their instincts and each other. Finding themselves and what each strives for most in life. Home, family, friendship, love, loyalty, trust and the ability to believe.

“The Tender Land” is a character driven novel about life’s journey. It is a novel I absolutely adored - I loved the characters and the vivid descriptions of the land and everything the characters were experiencing. The character of Odie simply grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go! I liked the first half of the novel a tiny bit more than the second half, hence the four v five star rating however, I still really liked it and can’t recommend it highly enough.

A huge thank you to Milena Brown at Atria Books, NetGalley and William Kent Krueger for an arc of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Published on Goodreads and NetGalley on 8.6.19.
*Will be published on Amazon on 9.3.19.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,739 reviews2,268 followers
July 9, 2019

An ode to another time and a journey born of desperation, a prayer for the innocence of childhood shattered by evil intentions and cruel actions of adults entrusted with their care, a classic coming-of-age tale that includes an ambitious quest, and an entreaty for the inner peace found in offering forgiveness to others.

“Ask me, 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. This beautiful, tender land.”

In 1932, as the Great Depression has begun to transform the country is when this story begins. The Lincoln School near the Gilead River in Minnesota was founded primarily as a home for Native American children who had been separated from their families, sometimes through death, and sometimes not. Those running this “home” were not known for their kindness, Mrs. Brickman seems to have particularly targeted two orphaned white brothers, Odie and Albert O’Banion. Albert is almost old enough to age out of Lincoln, whereas Odie is younger, and the primary target of Mrs. Brickman’s evil nature, she uses Odie’s misbehaviors – which tend to be fabricated more often than not - to keep Albert in line. Mose is a friend of the brothers, a mute Native American boy known for his physical strength, who communicates through sign language since he is unable to speak. The fourth member of this band of soon-to-be runaways is Emmy, a young girl who will lose her only parent through the wrath of Nature. These four Vagabonds escape these halls and set off to find a life that is far away from this hell, a life that contains hope and love.

I loved living in these pages, the prose flows like the rivers they are navigating, and the characters seemed so real that it is hard for me to think of them in any other way. I am so saddened by the thought that it is now time to leave these pages and these people behind, but I know this is a story that will long live in my heart.

Pub Date: 03 Sep 2019

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Atria Books!
Profile Image for Karen.
573 reviews1,114 followers
September 10, 2019
Beautiful story! I wish it wasn’t over...
in the summer of 1932, four orphaned children escape The Lincoln School for Indians where they are terribly mistreated. A pair of brothers Albert and Odie, a Native American boy..Mose, and Emmy a young girl.
This story is told by Odie, who is now over 80 yrs old looking back on that summer’s journey and all the people that they came across in their quest to find safety and HOME!
This author is fantastic! I loved his novel Amazing Grace, and this one too!
Profile Image for Bkwmlee.
383 reviews252 followers
September 11, 2019
Wow, what a story! It’s not often that I start a review off this way, but I’m a bit speechless right now — all I know is that this book is absolutely deserving of all the accolades it had gotten up to this point, so what better way to start this review than with the first thought that came into my head after finishing this one. The summary for this book refers to it as a “big-hearted epic” that has “the feel of a modern classic,” which is a description I definitely agree with, though beyond that, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to also use the word “masterpiece” to describe William Kent Krueger’s beautifully written newest novel. This is a book I would heartily recommend – one that packs a lot of heart and plenty of soul into a powerful, absorbing story with some of the most richly developed, endearing characters I’ve come across in awhile.

The story opens with our main protagonist Odie O’Banion, an elderly man now well into the eighth decade of his life, who is asked by his great-grandchildren to tell them a story — which, as a lifelong storyteller, is a task he is more than willing to oblige. He starts to recount for them the story of what happened to him during the summer of 1932 and from there, we are taken back several decades to when Odie was 12 years old and ends up with his older brother Albert at the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota after their father dies. Odie’s lively personality and mischievous nature gets him into constant trouble with the school’s superintendent Thelma Brickman, who is given the moniker ‘the Black Witch’ for her cruel and ruthless treatment of the hundreds of children in her care, many of whom were Native American children forcibly separated from their parents and sent to the school to be educated. It is not long before circumstances force Odie to flee the school and together with his brother Albert, along with their best friend at the school, a mute Native American boy named Mose, and 6-year-old Emmy Frost, whom they all adore as a little sister in tow, they set out in a canoe, journeying along the Gilead River toward Mississippi in search of a place they could call home. On their journey, these 4 orphans, who nicknamed themselves “the Vagabonds,” encounter an eclectic mix of characters from various walks of life — people with good intentions as well as bad ones; depraved families displaced as a result of the Great Depression; people who themselves are struggling to survive, yet display a generosity of spirit that is unparalleled; a faith healer who helps Odie and the others discover their true selves; Gertie and the others they meet in the backwater shanty towns of Saint Paul. Along the way, the 4 of them must also reckon with the past and confront a cruel history — specifically the country’s inhumane treatment of Native Americans. In the end, the journey becomes one of self-discovery and regardless of the outcomes, each child’s life becomes enriched from what they experienced during that fateful summer.

Clocking in at nearly 500 pages, this book covers a lot of ground both thematically and historically, yet never once does it feel overwhelming or tedious to read. Krueger’s prose here is masterful, and as our narrator, Odie’s voice and the amazing story he tells is poignant as well as absorbing. This is very much a character-driven story with Odie and his fellow “Vagabonds” as the driving force of the entire narrative, however with that said, all the other characters that they crossed paths with at different points in the journey were equally important in shaping this into the powerful story that it became. For me, the best historical fiction novels are the ones that have the ability to transport me to a time and place where I feel as though I am experiencing the events personally alongside the characters, and without a doubt, this book absolutely accomplished that. More significantly though was the emotional resonance of the story, as I felt like I experienced the entire spectrum of emotions while reading this – whether it was anger at the way the children were being treated at the school, sadness at the plights of the families displaced due to circumstances not of their doing, joyfulness when Odie and the gang triumphed over one obstacle after another, hopefulness during those moments when even those people with the hardest of hearts were moved enough to help others in need (those were just a few examples). This was a story where every character touched my heart in some way, to the point that I was reluctant to see the story end because I wanted to be with these characters for as long as I could.

I don’t give 5 stars very often, but this book definitely deserved it (actually, if I could give more stars, I would)! I’ve heard a lot about Krueger’s works over the years, though (I am a bit ashamed to admit) this is the first book of his that I’ve actually read (a wrong that I hope to rectify some time in the near future!). In a letter to his readers at the beginning of this book, Krueger talks about “pouring the best of himself into this story” and in asking us to read it, he is “offering [us] his heart” -- I am honored to have taken up this offer and in so doing, I can now count this among one of my favorite reads this year! If you get the chance to read this one, I hope that you will also love it as much as I have!

Received ARC from Atria Books via NetGalley
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
616 reviews337 followers
January 26, 2020
2 🔨🔨
Pretty engaging for the first 100 pages, then it kept going for 350 more . . . downhill and my complaints went up:

Sentimental and Stevia sweet.
Overly descriptive and explanatory.
Long-winded & preachy—a faith message story labeled “a mythic journey” by the author.
Filled with cliched either/or characters. Odie, the 12 year old natural born storyteller who says things to the reader like “I found what I’d been searching for without understanding. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, heart of my heart.”

But worst of all?
In droves, GR besties have loved & adored this book. I feel like a social media pariah and hesitate posting this for fear of being shunned by all my friends.
I should have quit reading at the halfway point when my eye-rolling was affecting my vision and quietly moved on. I could have deleted it from my shelves and no one would know my transgression but like Lucy I felt I had some 'splaining to do.

No doubt it was about women like me Hank Williams wrote Cold Cold Heart—anyone out there with a bottle of tenderizer and a mallet?
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