by William Kent Krueger
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.
The story of four orphaned runaways, This Tender Land is a sweeping epic with heart, a truly American odyssey. Odie (short for Odysseus) is a yarn-spinner of the best kind, a brave if occasionally brash young man whose heart is as big as the American landscape. His brother, Albert, is the mechanical genius with a responsibility complex. Mose is the silent giant with a mysterious past and an uncertain future. Emmy is the hopeful, happy little girl whom they all adore - think Shirley Temple with second sight.
But the true joy of this novel isn't the characters or the landscape or the attention to historical detail: its the sense of adventure and hope that is imbued throughout the story. While the occasional heavy-handed moralizing is mildly distracting, the prose, pacing, and good-hearted nature of the story rivets you to the page. When asked by a friend of mine, the best comparison I could come up with was, if Mark Twain decided to write his own American version of the The Oddessy, it'd feel something like this. For all the darkness this novel unblinkingly faces, it's a hopeful story about home, family, and adventure.