William Kent Kreuger’s This Tender Land is a lyrical novel set during the summer of 1932 and follows four children as they go on a literal and metaphorical journey. Odie, Albert, Mose and Emmy are all students at the Lincoln Indian School, and their time there will forever shape who they are and the choices they make.
From the first line, this novel had me hooked. The narrator is well established, yet looking back on events over fifty years in the past. Throughout the novel, future events are alluded to and hinted at, giving a glimpse at who the young man narrating would become. He slips easily between his twelve year old self and his matured self looking back, which is an elegant way to include foreshadowing.
This novel reads like a love letter to the landscape. Beautifully depicted, the setting for the story is a character unto itself. At times it is their ally, other times their foe. But it is the one more thing they have little control over, and plays an important role.
The characters are superbly well developed. With ages from six to nearly adult, the foursome each have flaws and skills that prove useful to the group. They show that family is more than blood, and strength in numbers is more than brute force.
The plot is, at times, hard to swallow. I took much longer to read this novel because of certain plot points. As a tribal citizen, it hurt my heart to see first hand accounts of the boarding schools meant to “kill the Indian, save the man.” Though I knew of their existence and the terrible things that happened there, the reiteration and dramatization of these real events was heart wrenching. I’ve detailed in another post my progress of learning Cherokee, my tribal language that has been in decline for generations because of these schools were it was forbidden to speak in native tongue, wear native clothes, or discuss native heritage at all. I am glad this novel will bring light to these injustices, as well as other crimes against Native Americans, to those who may not have known about them otherwise.
This Tender Land was an engrossing read with likable characters, wonderful storytelling, and a sweeping landscape. It’s one of those novels sure to stay with you long after you’ve closed the cover, its characters living on in your memory until the next time you pick it up again.