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This Tender Land    by William Kent Krueger order for
This Tender Land
by William Kent Krueger
Order:  USA  Can
Atria, 2019 (2019)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've long been a fan of William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor mystery novels for their mix of thriller and spirituality, their immensely satisfying, compelling plots and thoroughly engaging leads. Now he brings us something very different - yet just as compelling in This Tender Land, set in the Lincoln School in 1932, Minnesota, on the banks of the Gilead. It's a tale of 'killing and kidnapping and children pursued by demons of a thousand names.'

There, hundreds of Native American children have been separated from parents and brutally exploited for their labor. Though not Native American, orphaned Odie and Albert O'Banion have been sent there as well. While Albert follows the rules, conforms, and is relatively well treated, Odie constantly rebels and is viciously punished for it by monstrous school superintendent, Mrs. Thelma Brickman (whose husband reminds the boys of 'a snake with legs').

Fortunately, Odie does have some support - from his brother, his mute friend Mose, old carpentry instructor Herman Volz, and kind homemaking teacher Cora Frost (who has a cutie of a small daughter, Emmy with a very special ability). They counsel Odie to be more careful as the Brickmans threaten reformatory. The boys see light at the end of their dark tunnel when Cora Frost makes them an offer. Then disaster strikes, sending Odie, Albert, Mose and small Emmy on an odyssey via the Mississippi, with a price on their heads and always in danger of recapture.

Readers root for these children through all the many adventures that follow ... captures and escapes, separation and reunion, and even young love. Their varied experiences include a long successful stint with 'a traveling Christian healing show.' They often disagree, especially when Albert tells his brother 'nobody's born mean' and they all change. Odie eventually learns more about the mother who gave him the name Odysseus, and about how he and Albert ended up at Lincoln School.

I closed This Tender Land, in awe of William Kent Krueger's superlative storytelling. He remains very high on my must read list and I look forward to whatever he writes next.

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