*If you are new here, WELCOME! For This Tender Land, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
If you’ve been stuck in a reading rut lately, especially due to the pandemic (or just life in general), then This Tender Land could be the next read for you. It’s a character-driven adventure story with all the feels, but it won’t leave you emotionally fatigued. I truly loved this book.
The novel centers around two young brothers and their two friends, a mute American Indian and a sweet-hearted girl with a mysterious gift. All four characters begin their journey at a brutal reformatory-like institution called the Lincoln Indian Training School. All four characters are orphans longing for family.
The story follows the group as they make a narrow escape from the school after an accidental crime is committed and set out for a new home, making their journey down the Mississippi river. Along the way they encounter drifters, struggling farmers, and faith healers.
The book, set against the backdrop of the American midwest during the Great Depression, is a beautiful coming-of-age that explores questions of faith, love, and belonging.
If you are looking for a book about second chances, forgiveness, and friendship, This Tender Land will have you turning the pages with a renewed joy for reading.
If you loved books like Where the Crawdads Sing or Peace Like a River, you’ll love This Tender Land. Below, I’ve provided book club questions and a recipe for This Tender Land, so if you are looking for food ideas and more, keep reading!
Looking for your next great read? Check out these similar books…
Here’s a brief summary of This Tender Land:
In 1932, Odie O’Banion is an orphan living in the terrible confines of the Lincoln Indian Training School alongside his brother, Albert. Prone to mischief, Odie finds himself the object of the superintendent’s wrath, time and again. Then, Odie does something unthinkable and is forced to flee with Albert, their good friend, Mose, and sweet, but brokenhearted Emmy.
They steal away in a canoe destined for the Mississippi River, but the path before them is full of drifters and struggling farmers fighting for their livelihoods in face of the Great Depression. Along the way, they’ll encounter faith healers, displaced families, rowdy riverboat men, and lost souls as they struggle to define what family means and try to find a place to call home.
For the This Tender Land recipe:
Despite the fact that this story is set during the Great Depression, there is actually a plethora of food ideas from the pages of This Tender Land. Even if it’s only a bit of this or that, the characters that Odie and his crew stumble upon are always willing to share their food.
Chicken soup is mentioned more than once in the book and it somehow embodied the warm, comforting feeling this novel left behind. For my recipe below, I’ve decided to share a delicious chicken noodle soup, but if you’d like other ideas, check out this lengthy list!
Here are some other food ideas from the pages of This Tender Land:
- Chapter 4 – Sausages with scrambled eggs and potatoes with diced onions and bread – Volz and Albert rescue Odie and Mose from the Quiet Room
- Chapter 12 – A loaf of bread, peanut butter, apple butter, and oranges – the first meal on the river- (Next meal-bologna and cheese)
- Chapter 18 – Chicken and roasted carrots from the pig scarer (Jack) after building his still
- Chapter 20 – Chicken and mushrooms and moonshine when the still is finished
- Chapter 22 – Catfish from the Sioux, Forrest, and later from Mose
- Chapter 23 – Chicken soup from the revival
- Chapter 25 – Lemon drops and licorice from Sister Eve
- Chapter 38 – Ginger cookies, cider, apple slices and cheese with bread in Hopersville when Odie plays his harmonica
- Chapter 51 – Lentil soup and bread the first night at Gertie’s plus sandwiches of bread, cheese, sliced beef, tomatoes and lettuce for the workers and rice pudding as John Kelly’s mother labors
- Chapter 61 – Scrambled eggs, ham, toast and raspberry jam, grits, and fried green tomatoes—breakfast at Aunt Julia’s the morning after Odie arrives
The goal here is to get a close-to-real book experience, so choose any of the items above that remind you of your favorite parts of the book.
Below I’m sharing a warm and rich chicken noodle soup that would have filled up Odie and friends, just like the soup they ate at The Sword of Gideon Healing Crusade. So, if you are looking for food suggestions for This Tender Land, I think your book club will be happy and full after this Chicken Noodle Soup!
Chicken Noodle Soup
- 1 cup carrots chopped
- 1 cup celery chopped
- 1 cup onions diced
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 3 cups chicken cooked and chopped
- 1 package Ranch seasoning
- 8 ounces noodles of choice*
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parsley optional
- Place the chopped carrots, chopped celery, diced onions, and cooked chicken together in a heavy bottom pot.
- Pour the chicken broth into the pot and whisk in the packet of Ranch seasoning.
- Bring the mix to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
- Add the noodles and cook an additional 5-10 mins (per the pasta instructions for al dente).
- Remove from the heat and salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Garnish with parsley if you prefer and serve warm with crackers.
This Tender Land Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Almost everyone the group meets along the road isn’t quite what he/she seems on the surface. Talk about how this is true for Forrest, Jack, Sister Eve, Mr. Schofield, Gertie, and Aunt Julia. Do you think by the end of the book Odie is able to trust people despite learning this hard lesson? Why or why not?
- Discuss the idea of home for each of the characters—Mose, Albert, Odie, and Emmy. In the end why do you think they chose the homes they did? What made each place home for each character? Do you hold a similar definition of home or not?
- At the beginning of the book, Odie believes God is a Tornado, a shepherd who eats his flock one by one. By the end of the book, Odie has changed and accepted the mysteries of faith and the power of forgiveness. Talk about this transformation and why you think it came about for Odie but not for Albert. Do you believe like Sister Eve says, that some people have faith in them and others don’t? Why is this?
- Discuss the Lincoln Indian Training School. Were you aware that such institutions existed? What about the Dakota Conflict of 1862? Do know know any other facts about these two pieces of Native American history that you would like to share with the group?
- Mose is able to keep an upbeat demeanor despite enduring cruelties himself and seeing them at the Lincoln Indian Training School. When he stumbles on the remains of a young Indian boy something is triggered in him. Why do you think this particular incident draws out a darkness in Mose that the other things didn’t? Did you think Forrest was a friend or foe to Mose during that time?
- What did you think of Sister Eve and The Sword of Gideon Healing Crusade? Do you think recreating a healing experience is a con or do you think people need to see before they believe sometimes? Have you ever been to a tent revival? Discuss your experience if you are open to sharing.
- The book takes place during the Great Depression. Discuss the characters’ interactions with Hoovervilles and the Flats. Did the residents seem hopeless to you or hopeful despite their circumstances? Discuss the differences between the Schofields and Gertie and her friends. Why do you think Odie feels such an allegiance to such people?
- Discuss Emmy’s and Sister Eve’s gifts. If you could choose between knowing a person’s past and healing her ailments or knowing a person’s future and being able to alter that, which would you chose?
- What did you think of the ending? Were you surprised that Odie’s story intertwined with the Black Witch’s on another level? Do you think she got her “just desserts”?
- This book is an adventure story in many ways. The characters take internal and external journeys. Discuss other books with young narrators on a journey that you have read and love (i.e. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Peace Like a River).
Have you read This Tender Land? What did you think? What are some similar books you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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