• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Krueger's writing is lovely, and while the adult characters sometimes feel like caricatures of evil villains, his young characters and the vivid setting of 1930s on the Mississippi are pretty irresistible.

I listened to Krueger's This Tender Land as an audiobook, and I was satisfyingly immersed in 1930s life along with Odie, Albert, and their best friends Emmy and Mose.

At the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota, young American Indians taken from their families for forced "restructuring" (being forcibly cut off from their culture, traditions, and family members)--along with white orphans Odie and Albert--spend their days being worked relentlessly. They spend their nights desperately avoiding the cruelties and horrors they might suffer at the hands of the almost universally terrible and often caricatural evil adults in charge. Two adults in the children's orbit are heartbreakingly kind, but the reach of their power is limited.

When events come to a head and the O'Banion brothers must flee down the Gilead River--in hopes of meeting up with the Mississippi and eventually hitting St. Louis and reuniting with a long-lost aunt--their recently orphaned neighbor Emmy and their steadfast best friend Mose don't hesitate to come along.

They encounter various Depression-era characters who are also struggling to get by, there's some chaste young love, and stresses and crises set off disagreements and conflicts. An adult figure with a magical-seeming ability to read people and to heal them becomes a pivotal and unlikely trusted party in certain crucial situations. The emergence of this character leads to somewhat of an exploration of faith and beliefs.

The author has said that this story was inspired by The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and it does feel like a modernized take (in terms of cultural sensitivity and perspective) on that type of tale. The writing is lovely and the characters are pretty irresistible.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Krueger also wrote Ordinary Grace, which I reviewed on the blog here, and he writes a mystery series (the first title is Iron Lake) set in the north woods of Minnesota that features Cork O'Connor, a former sheriff who is part Irish and part Ojibwe.