Tuesday, September 14, 2021 at 2 PM or 7 PM
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In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, Odie O’Banion is an orphan confined to the Lincoln Indian Training School, a pitiless place where his lively nature earns him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee after committing a terrible crime, 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 summer, these four orphans 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.
Although Odie and Albert find themselves in a boarding school for Native American children, most of the Native children don’t actually speak in the story. The Native character whom readers get to know best is Mose, and he is mute and “speaks” only through sign language. Why do you think the author chose silence as a way of depicting the children at the school? Has anyone seen or read about Native American boarding schools?
Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy are all searching for peace and a place to call home. What do you think each character is looking for and what are their different definitions of home? In the end, do they all find what they are looking for?
Does the book remind you of any other books or writers? The author has said that he drew inspiration from the works of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Homer. Do you find elements of works by those authors in This Tender Land? Do you see echoes of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey in the children’s experiences?
One of the themes in the book is trust. The vagabonds encounter a Native American man named Forrest. He appears friendly and shares a meal with them, but he’s also aware that there is a $500 reward for their capture—a huge amount of money at the time. The children are unsure whether to trust him or not. Odie trusts Sister Eve so wholeheartedly, but not her partner, Sid. In the Hoovervilles, homeless families are struggling to survive and don’t know whom to trust. In the Flats when John Kelly is stopped by a policeman, he says he’s from a different part of town, because he doesn’t trust them. How do these kids learn whom to trust and whom not to trust?