A coming-of-age odyssey that'll leave you in awe of the rawness of the Great Depression and the American Midwest.
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Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
Because I live in a city that’s more concrete than grass, I sometimes go weeks without spending time in nature—which means I fantasize about tossing my phone down a subway grate and setting off into the woods a lot. As this is neither practical (I have no outdoorsy skills) nor feasible (the woods are very far away), I like turning to the next best thing: books set in the great outdoors. Give me a character canoeing down a river, or a vivid description of changing fall leaves, and I am, shall we say, a happy camper.
It was with this in mind that I picked up This Tender Land, a nature-filled adventure story set in rural Minnesota. The book begins with Odie, a young boy with a good heart but a penchant for getting in trouble, who suffers alongside his brother Albert at a cruel boarding school. Odie spends his days doing school-enforced manual labor, playing his contraband harmonica—and landing in detention. When circumstances force Odie, Albert, and two fellow orphans to escape, their getaway takes them on a grand adventure, crossing paths with strangers and witnessing the effects of the Great Depression.
This book is everything I want in a fall read: warm, heartfelt, and chock-full of observations on the natural world. Odie and his compatriots remind me of the savvy, adventurous children that occupied books from my childhood—the kids from Bridge to Terabithia come to mind—rendered all the more believable by William Kent Krueger’s lyrical prose. If you too enjoy a story brought to life by its environment (looking at you, Where the Crawdads Sing fans!) then snuggle up under an autumn tree with a copy of This Tender Land.
1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. 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.
Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross 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, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.