In This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, hundreds of Native American children have been separated from their parents and sent to the Lincoln School in Minnesota, a boarding school meant to take the perceived “wild” out of these children by providing structure and forcing them to speak only English. The Brinkmans are the corrupt family who run the school and for years have taken advantage of their students, by stealing their money, by not permitting any family contact, and by doling out physical & mental abuse along with a shortage of nutritional food and clean clothing.
Odie narrates this novel and shares his adventures from the summer of 1932, when at 12-years-old, he and his older brother Albert O’Banion, along with Mosie, a mute Native American boy, and Emmy, a six-year-old ward of the Brinkman’s, decide they’ve all had enough at the Lincoln School and escape by canoeing down the Mississippi river.
As the group of self-proclaimed “vagabonds” journey in search of better lives, they have run-ins with drunks, bootleggers, hobos and con artists and get into some seriously dangerous situations along their way to St. Louis. Suspense builds as the gang learns that the Brinkmans have hired bounty hunters and are after them and closing in fast.
This Tender Land, was published in 2019 but is set during the Great Depression and reads like a modern classic. and is a beautifully crafted novel that has plenty for every reader —a mix of literary fiction, coming-of-age, adventure, mystery, and a lesson in morality and forgiveness.
If you liked Where the Crawdads Sing, Huckleberry Finn or just enjoy compelling historical fiction, you won’t want to miss this novel.