3 Sentence Summary
This Tender Land is a captivating coming-of-age novel by William Kent Krueger, published in 2019. It follows the story of four orphans on a life-changing journey during the Great Depression in the Midwestern United States. The novel explores the significance of a life and its impact through the telling, and has been praised for its vivid portrayal of the era.
Summary Read Time: Less than 4 minutes
Actual Book Length: 450
First Published in: 2019
Below is the detailed yet quick summary of the book:
Part 1 of “This Tender Land” starts with a death. Odie O’Banion and his older brother, Albert, are sent to a Native American boarding school in Fremont County, Minnesota after the death of their father, despite not being Native American themselves. Over the course of four years at the school, Odie develops a reputation as a troublemaker. On the other hand, Albert earns the trust of the strict superintendent, Mrs. Brickman. They form close bonds with Mose, an orphaned boy who was mutilated as a child, as well as Mrs. Frost, a gentle teacher, and her daughter, Emmy.
After Mrs. Frost offers to adopt the three boys, she is tragically killed by a tornado. On the day of her funeral, Odie is punished with solitary confinement, but later that night he is almost killed by the school’s abusive disciplinarian, Vincent DiMarco. Odie manages to escape and the three boys, along with Emmy, decide to run away. They extort money and documents from Mr. Brickman, threatening to reveal his affair with a teacher, and take Emmy with them on their journey.
Part 2, 3 & 4
In Part 2 of “This Tender Land,” Odie and his companions journey down the Gilead River in Mrs. Frost’s canoe. They encounter Jack, the owner of a shed they take refuge in during a storm. Jack forces Albert, Odie, and Mose to work on his farm, and tensions rise when he gets angry with Emmy. Eventually, Albert confronts Jack, and Odie shoots him, thinking he is about to harm Albert.
In Part 3, Odie and his companions join a religious revival run by Sister Eve. When Odie sees that some of the people claiming to be healed are paid by Sid, the revival’s manager, he confronts Sister Eve. During the confrontation, a rattlesnake bites Albert, and Odie must appeal to Sister Eve to heal him. Albert’s condition improves, but the Brickmans arrive in town soon after, forcing Odie and his companions to set off downstream.
In Part 4, new tensions arise among Odie and his companions. Odie befriends a family named the Schofields and helps them leave for Chicago, but this drive a wedge between him and the others. Mose learns about injustices against his Sioux relatives, and they must leave when they learn the Brickmans are not far behind.
Part 5, 6 & Epilopgue
In Part 5 of the novel, the characters arrive in St. Paul and are taken in by the friendly café owners, Gertie Hellman and Flo. They find work, make friends and are happy, except for Odie who feels disconnected. To his surprise, he meets Jack who has turned his life around and is now a changed man. Despite this, Odie decides to leave St. Paul, catching a train headed south.
Part 6 sees Odie in an unfamiliar place but he manages to escape danger with the help of Emmy’s advice. He finds his birth mother, Aunt Julia, in St. Louis. There she reveals to him the truth about his past and her relationship with Mrs. Brickman. Julia and Mrs. Brickman end up in a fatal fight, and Odie is left to care for his mother who is in a coma. Eventually, he is joined by his friends, including Sister Eve who encourages him to imagine the ending he desires.
In the Epilogue, the characters’ lives are revealed. Odie is shown marrying Maybeth Schofield, Emmy staying with Sister Eve, and Julia surviving to open a dress shop. The novel concludes with Odie reflecting on his journey, and how his views on God and spirituality have evolved over time. Initially blaming God for bad things, Odie moves towards a more hopeful and accepting philosophy.