This book came to me at a perfect time. I was trying to figure out why I so disliked a different book featuring a traveling group, and found the answer in a few things This Tender Land did right. But first, here is a description of the book right from Good Reads:
1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. 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.
Emotional attachment first
I got emotionally attached to the characters before they began the journey. For some people this made a slow beginning, but I enjoyed getting to know them as the tension built. Getting to know them in flashbacks wouldn’t work in this case. If I don’t care about them, why would I care what happens on their journey?
Each character is so distinct with his or her own personality and goals that if there were no dialog tags, I wouldn’t have trouble telling them apart. Although, I did appreciate the tags. The goals may or may not be known to the characters until they see a thing, have an experience, or meet a person that reveals it. Kinda like real life sometimes, but it’s not meandering. They actively try to figure out life.
Each character grows exponentially. They all have flaws, and the main character is no exception.
Stopping to smell the flowers
Everyone does it, even with escape on their minds. The scenes that show their place within nature and in relation to each other provide a nice break from chaos are endearing. They aren’t overwhelming, but just enough.
Hard lessons and soft ones. What true friendship and family can mean. Who to trust, who to give the benefit of the doubt, who is obnoxious but not a real threat. How to survive.
Learning something is requirement of historical fiction, so it almost feels silly to mention it, but I must! I found a lot of things about depression to look up and expand my knowledge. Hoover leather, Hoover towns, traveling religious shows, the Indian schools, etc.