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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Historical fiction

This Tender Land

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

by William Kent Krueger

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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

    Emotional

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_HeavyRead

    Heavy read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Action

    Action-packed

Synopsis

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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Free sample

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

Part One: God Is a Tornado

Prologue

In the beginning, after he labored over the heavens and the earth, the light and the dark, the land and sea and all living things that dwell therein, after he created man and woman and before he rested, I believe God gave us one final gift. Lest we forget the divine source of all that beauty, he gave us stories.

I am a storyteller. I live in a house in the shade of a sycamore tree on the banks of the Gilead River. My great-grandchildren, when they visit me here, call me old.

“Old is a cliché,” I tell them, with mock disappointment. “A terrible trivializing. An insult. I was born along with the sun and earth and moon and planets and all the stars. Every atom of my being was there at the very beginning.”

“You’re a liar.” They scowl, but playfully.

“Not a liar. A storyteller,” I remind them.

“Then tell us a story,” they plead.

I need no goading. Stories are the sweet fruit of my existence and I share them gladly.

The events I’m about to share with you began on the banks of the Gilead. Even if you grew up in the heartland, you may not remember these things. What happened in the summer of 1932 is most important to those who experienced it, and there are not many of us left.

The Gilead is a lovely river, lined with cottonwoods already ancient when I was a boy.

Things were different then. Not simpler or better, just different. We didn’t travel the way we do now, and for most folks in Fremont County, Minnesota, the world was limited to the piece of it they could see before the horizon cut off the land. They wouldn’t have understood any more than I did that if you kill a man, you are changed forever. If that man comes back to life, you are transformed. I have witnessed this and other miracles with my own eyes. So, among the many pieces of wisdom life has offered me over all these years is this: Open yourself to every possibility, for there is nothing your heart can imagine that is not so.

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Why I love it

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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Member ratings (17,514)

  • Kyla R.

    Le Roy, IL

    I loved this book.the characters are so well-developed. It has a Huckleberry Finn feel with all the emotional (book) genres. This book is currently at the top of my 2021 picks. A must read! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Chelsey N.

    Menifee, CA

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ WKK is an amazing storyteller! He never disappoints. I always find myself “savoring” his reads instead of just reading till the book 📕 is done. Wonderful set of characters.

  • Elizabeth K.

    Sherman, TX

    William Kent Krueger is one of my favorite authors and this book didn’t disappoint. I love his way of storytelling…this was one I couldn’t put down. Highly recommend anything by this author. ????????????????

  • Heather E.

    Albion , NY

    Ever scroll through the “add ons” because none of the monthly selections appeal to you, see a cover, take a gamble? That’s this book. No regrets. So unique and beautiful, I absolutely adored it! 5⭐️’s

  • Alexie K.

    Mounds, OK

    What a lovely book!!! The characters were well developed and I loved watching them grow. The story reminded me of Huck Finn, but was honestly much much better. Five stars for sure ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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