Welcome to a riveting adventure set in the summer of 1932, where four orphaned vagabonds embark on a perilous journey along the Gilead River in Minnesota.
In the Lincoln Indian Training School, Native American children are forcefully separated from their families to be educated, and among them are two white brothers, Odie and Albert. But after committing a heinous crime, the brothers, along with their mute Sioux friend Mose and a desolate little girl named Emmy, set out in a canoe, hoping to find a place to call home.
This Tender Land, written by William Kent Krueger, is an epic tale of courage, friendship, and the majestic American landscape that brings us all together.
In this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some book club questions for This Tender Land and why it’s a must-read for anyone looking to understand the human spirit’s ability to overcome adversity and find hope in even the bleakest of circumstances.
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This Tender Land Book Club Questions
- Odie’s journey begins with a yearning for a home and family that he lost when his parents died. However, as he travels with his makeshift family, he begins to realize that home and family can take many forms. The group of misfits that he travels with becomes his family, and the adventures they share together become his home. By the end of the novel, he has realized that the best relations are not that via blood, but via understanding.
Do you agree with this statement? Also, have you ever witnessed any particular event in life that made you agree with the above statement?
- Mose is the heart of the wandering group, bringing them together with his cheerful disposition and willingness to help others. However, his journey takes a dark turn when he learns about the abuse suffered by his people. This experience causes him to distance himself from Odie and Albert, but they are eventually able to reconcile. Mose’s journey mirrors that of his Biblical namesake, Moses, as both were found among reeds and raised within a culture that oppressed their people.
Discuss the role that he played in the book with specific scenarios that made you wonder about his altruistic abilities.
- As Albert and Odie set out on their journey, they rely on each other for support and guidance. However, as the journey progresses, Odie begins to feel that Albert is becoming distant and uninterested in their friendship. This tension comes to a head when Albert decides to stay in St. Paul to work on boats, leaving Odie to continue on alone.
What other scenarios do you think contributed to their temporary rift? Did you expect the eventual reunion at the end?
- Mose is a physically imposing and kind-hearted member of the traveling group who has suffered greatly in his life due to his Native American heritage. As the group journeys across the western wilderness, Mose becomes increasingly bitter and resentful of the numerous injustices he has faced in the past. However, he is able to find a sense of purpose and empowerment by standing up for the rights of Native Americans, and becoming an effective political advocate.
Do you think Mose’s story is a reminder of the resilience and strength shown by marginalized communities, even in the face of great adversity?
- In the book, Krueger shows how children like Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy are vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse at the hands of adults who should be protecting them. He also highlights the injustices faced by ethnic groups, such as the Sioux people who are forced to attend the Lincoln School and have their culture and language erased.
What’s your take on the way Krueger highlighted the suffering of marginalized groups in the novel, and what are some of the forms this suffering takes? Also, what’s your take on the way he offered hope in the face of such injustices?
- The boarding school is a place of strict rules and harsh punishments, and the boys are subjected to racism and abuse because they are not Native American. Odie becomes a troublemaker in part because he refuses to accept the injustices he sees around him, and Albert earns the trust of the school’s superintendent by following the rules. However, when Mrs. Frost, a teacher who has shown them kindness, offers to adopt them, they see a chance to escape the school’s oppressive atmosphere.
What’s your take on the way the school system impacted the lives of Odie, Albert, and Mose?
- At first, Odie views God as a powerful, destructive force, akin to a tornado that can destroy everything. This belief provides an outlet for his anger, but it also feeds into additional anger and cynicism. However, after encountering the Sword of Gideon Healing Crusade, Odie begins to reconsider his views.
How does Odie’s search for meaning unfold over the course of the novel, and what role does his evolving conception of God play in this journey? Also, do you think the novel reconciles the opposing forces of love and destruction?
- Storytelling serves a dual function in this novel. It evokes beauty and explores formerly unknown possibilities while also serving as a means of consolation and celebration of past events. For Odie, storytelling is a way to transform mundane struggles into heroic clashes, allowing him and his companions to see the beauty and heroism around them. Sister Eve suggests that the universe is one grand story, and storytelling has the power to change it in the telling. Her line “Maybe the universe is one grand story, and who says that it can’t be changed in the telling?” serves as a metaphor to it. Mrs. Brickman, on the other hand, sees storytelling as a means of manipulation and control.
What do you think is the role of storytelling in this novel?
- Certain events in the book are indeed miraculous. Some of the “miracles” described in the novel are simply moments of beauty or generosity, while others are more traditionally miraculous, such as the survival of Jack, Albert, and Julia in life-threatening situations. The concept of miracles is closely tied to faith, with Maybeth’s counsel to believe in miracles when one has nothing else to believe in.
Do you personally believe in miracles, and what’s your take on these miraculous events happening in the novel?
- The setting of the book, the American Midwest during the Great Depression, is a crucial element of the story. This gave me vibes similar to that of The Four Winds. Also, the economic hardship and environmental devastation of the era provide a backdrop for the boys’ journey, and they encounter people from all walks of life who are struggling to survive. The landscape, including the Gilead River, also plays a role in the story, as the boys rely on the river to navigate and find shelter along its banks.
Considering the fact that it was a pivotal moment in American History, would you like to share anything regarding that particular era?
If you liked this set of questions, here are some other options for you to explore.
Ordinary Grace: In the summer of 1961, young Frank Drum’s idyllic life in small-town Minnesota is shattered by a series of tragic events. With innocence lost, he navigates a world of secrets and betrayal, searching for wisdom and clinging to the enduring grace of God.
The Great Alone: Join the Allbright family as they embark on a perilous journey to Alaska, seeking refuge from their troubled past. In the unforgiving wilderness, they discover the true meaning of survival, love, and the untamed spirit that resides within.
Klara and The Sun: A keen Artificial Friend named Klara closely observes humans in a store, yearning for a true connection. However, she’s cautioned against putting too much trust in human promises, raising the profound inquiry: what does love truly entail?
Crying in H Mart: Michelle Zauner’s memoir takes readers on a poignant journey of being a Korean American in Oregon, battling her mother’s expectations, navigating her identity, and ultimately finding solace and self-discovery through her mother’s terminal illness.
Cloud Cuckoo Land: Anthony Doerr’s masterpiece unites a remarkable ensemble of dreamers and outcasts from different eras, who brave adversity to protect what they cherish. Their intertwined stories, spanning centuries, form a captivating union of resilience, hope, and the enduring power of storytelling.