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Great Depression-era novel explores survival, friendship

by Claudia Young | January 22, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

William Kent Krueger is a novelist and crime writer best known for his series of novels featuring Cork O'Connor that are set in Minnesota.

As the Fiction at Noon book group begins a new year of reading in 2023, we chose Krueger's 2019 historical fiction novel "This Tender Land."

This work is a departure from Krueger's normal mystery writing and is well done, landing it on the New York Times bestseller list for an impressive six months.

At the height of the Depression, Odie and Albert O'Banion were orphaned and sent to live at the Lincoln Indian Training School run by Clyde and Thelma Brickman, located in Fremont County, Minnesota.

The brothers are the only Caucasian children at the reform school where the unfortunate Odie becomes the frequent target of Mrs. Brickman's cruelty. The early chapters cover the mistreatment and abuse of these poor children.

Just when I thought I couldn't handle any more of these miseries, the story thankfully shifts. The O'Banion brothers become young fugitives after a series of misfortunes. One particular circumstance results in them taking the contents of the Brinkman's safe.

As they flee, Albert and Odie are joined by two other young friends, Mose, a mute Indian orphan, and 6-year old Emmy.

Along with $200, the Brickman's safe also contained a number of letters, including one to Odie and Albert from an aunt Julia they barely remember.

With the revelation of this long lost aunt, these brave, young children decide to make their way to her home in St. Louis while the reader is alternatively terrified and hopeful for them.

Their adventures range from dangerous to life-affirming as the four young orphans are helped and help other lost souls along the way.

Fiction at Noon meets on Tuesday, Jan. 31, in the Truman Room of the library.

There is still time to read this wonderful story. I am one of the discussion leaders and would be pleased to have you join them.

Library staff can quickly obtain a copy for you from our MOBIUS consortium (the library copies are all checked out).

The title is also readily available in audiobook format on our hoopla app. Please call the library if you need assistance.

Claudia Young is the director at Missouri River Regional Library.

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