William Kreuger’s newest book has been favorably compared to works ranging from “The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn” to the more contemporary “Where The Crawdads Sing,” and it is a fair comparison. “This Tender Land” takes us to the banks of the Gilead River in Minnesota and to the Lincoln Indian Training School, a place without pity or compassion, a place where Native American children, taken from their parents and community, are housed and forcibly “educated” to the ways of the whites. It is the summer of 1932 and the country is in the grips of the Great Depression. The Brickmans, the owners of the school, enjoy a nearly Depression-proof means of livelihood, taking money from the state for the sustenance of the incarcerated children, accepting favors and money for loaning the children out to local farmers to do their back-breaking labor, as well as other, even more insidious and corrupt acts.
Odie and Albert are two white children that are mysteriously consigned to the not-so-tender mercies of this execrable school after the deaths of their parents. Odie, though goodhearted, has inherited the silver tongue and crafty morals of their grifter father, while Albert, who is several years older, adheres to the quiet intensity and deep responsibility instilled in him by their dying mother.
When a teacher is killed in self-defense, in the midst of a reprehensible act, it becomes necessary for Albert and Odie to flee, they take two other children who are also in dire circumstances and slip away downriver. The four children must escape the Brickmans, the police, and even folks with the best intentions for their safety, as the historical equivalent of an “Amber Alert” is broadcast far and wide. If they are to have any chance at life, at freedom, then escape is their only hope.
As Mr. Krueger says in his prologue, “There will be courage in this story and cowardice. There will be love and betrayal. And, of course, there will be hope. In the end, isn’t that what every good story is about?” Indeed it is, and this is a very good story. If you like a good old-fashioned adventure story, historical fiction with depth and grit and grandeur, then you must prepare yourself to ride the river with four of the most irrepressible, resourceful, and courageous young people that you will ever meet.