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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Historical fiction

This Tender Land

Each year thousands of members vote for our Book of the Year award—congrats to This Tender Land!

by William Kent Krueger

Quick take

A coming-of-age odyssey that'll leave you in awe of the rawness of the Great Depression and the American Midwest.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_HeavyRead

    Heavy read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

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Why I love it

Brianna Goodman
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.

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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.

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Get an early look from the first pages of This Tender Land.

Member thoughts

All (12856)
All (12856)
Love (9108)
Like (3291)
Dislike (457)
13178 ratings
  • 69% Love
  • 25% Like
  • 3% Dislike
  • Orange, TX

    I absolutely loved this book! It is literally everything you want in a novel. It has adventure, love, loss, heartache, and imagination. I am putting this one in my top 5 books ever read! Definitely recommend

  • Alexandria, VA

    Definitely one of my favorite books I’ve read! If you liked “Where the Crawdads Sing,” then you will love this book. Wonderful author and a great storyteller. I can’t wait to read more of his novels!

  • Huntington Beach, CA

    Truly one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read A LOT of books. This story ripped my heart to shreds but in the most wonderful way, if that’s even possible. It will be on my mind for months+

  • Shakopee , MN

    A fantastic autumn read about finding your true self, all told from the perspective of a 12 year old boy. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! If you liked this book, you’ll love ‘Boy’s Life’.

  • Maumee, OH

    When I read the synopsis of this book and picked it for this month, I knew I chose something special. A sweeping tale of four kids during the Depression that will stick with you long after the book is read

  • Woodland , CA

    This was a page flipper! I loved the characters. I didn’t want the book to end. I many times know what is likely around the corner; not so with this book. Now I want to read all this author’s books

  • New Bedford, MA

    I didn’t expect to like this so much because I had not heard any of my reader friends speak of it. The characters immediately have you pulling for them. I couldn’t wait to see how they would turn out!

  • Palm Coast, FL

    Great story! Odie, Albert, Mose, & Emmy’s journey through Lincoln Indian Training School, Cora Frost’s house, the crusade w Sister Eve, & onto Saint Louis with Aunt Julia was heartwarming & empowering

  • King, NC

    Huckleberry Finn but with a Dust Bowl aspect. Loved the acknowledgement of the horrible treatment of Native Americans and their forced assimilation into “American” lifestyle without preaching about it

  • Elmira, NY

    I read most of this book in one sitting and I couldn’t love it more! The kindness and generosity of human spirit was not lost on me considering the strange times that we are currently living in. ❤️

  • Fredericksburg, VA

    Loved! If the idea of blending Native American history with Huck Finn, Where The Crawdads Sing and Before We Were Yours, all set in 1932 depression, intrigues you, then you must read this book! 5⭐️

  • West Seneca , NY

    I love stories that draw me in to the characters personal experiences. The author does an excellent job of this. So glad I chose this title for my selection of the month. Discovered new author I❤️

  • Dayton, OH

    Poignant and raw and sad and wonderful. I’m glad this book didn’t shy away from the ugly in America’s history, but still appreciated some of the beauty too. Mostly the characters are truly lovely.

  • Parnell , MO

    Beautifully written, I was entranced from the first sentence. Kent Krueger is a true storyteller. I’m still sad that I’ve finished it, I miss the characters and loved living in this book for a time.

  • Springfield, IL

    A modern day Tom Sawyer this book took me through every emotion. Hopeful, sad, frightened, angry, cheerful. A group of friends on an adventure with only the desire to escape and their love for each other

  • Big Bear City, CA

    This book was so good that I literally read it in less than 24 hours. Couldn’t put it down. The author has such a great story telling ability. Much like his other book, Ordinary Grace! Thank you BOTM

  • Nellysford , VA

    I did not know this author am so glad to have found him. Lots of great reading ahead. The writing was wonderful. I was. Instantly stopping to savor a phrase or more. The plot was engaging, I couldn’t

  • Deerfield , NH

    I’m only sorry I waited as long as I did to read this one. This is a book hangover that will last for weeks. Such a beautiful and at timea heartbreaking story of four runaways looking for “home”.

  • Salt Lake City, UT

    I absolutely loved this book. I can definitely understand why it was a BOTY and it was well worth using my BFF birthday credit on. I just finished and I’m so sad that it’s over. I highly recommend!

  • Austin , TX

    Other reviews compared this book to “Where the Crawdads Sing” and I was skeptical. While the style and story of each are very different, the characters in this one resonate just as much. Great read!

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