cover image This Tender Land

This Tender Land

William Kent Krueger. Atria, $27 (464p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4929-7

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