This Tender Land is one of my most anticipated books for September. I enjoy William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series, but I loved his standalone novel “Ordinary Grace” which is so much more than the mystery is seems at first glance. While neither a sequel or prequel, This Tender Land does begin in a rural town named Lincoln and the Lincoln Indian School but our characters spend some time in New Bremen, the same fictional Minnesota town as “Ordinary Grace“. It is a paddling-down-the-river story meant to recall Huck Finn and Jim on the Mississippi. This story is focused mostly on the Mississippi’s tributaries, the Gilead and Minnesota Rivers, not joining the big river until St. Paul, near the end of their journey, but the slightly picaresque adventures are similar.
It all begins at the Lincoln Indian School where the idea of “Kill the Indian, Save the man.” is practiced with cruelty and greed by The Black Witch and her husband. Odie O’Banion, a bright and clever young man is frequently on the receiving end of her ire. Just when Odie sees a chance for something better, his hopes are dashed, so he escapes with his brother Albert, his best friend Mose, and Emmy, a recently orphaned young girl The Black Witch wants to adopt.
They take a canoe and head toward St. Louis where Odie and Albert have an aunt. Along the way, they meet all sorts of people, the kind that takes away your faith in humanity and those who restore it.
This Tender Land is a wonderful novel. I love how this story highlights the history of Minnesota, the cultural genocide, and the literal genocide of Native Americans, the struggles of poor families during the Depression. I also like how each character is well-developed and complex. We even learn some context that makes the Black Witch a little more complicated than the pure evil she seems to be. Not much, but some.
I have always had a fondness for picaresque stories. This is a new addition to a long, proud tradition. This is a story about the power of friendship and love and how we make our own families and how those families lift us up in the world.
This Tender Land will be released on September 3rd. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.