Deep, heart wrenching tale

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The Innocents by Michael Crummey

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

A young brother and sister, Evered and Ada Best, are only 11 and 12 years old when they are left as orphans when a devastating illness takes their parents and baby sister.  Their dilemma is made worse by the fact that they live in an isolated cove in Newfoundland.  Their contact with and knowledge of the outside world has been minimal.  Their parents were taken ill so quickly that they were unable to prepare their children to survive in this desolate place.  They know that a ship named “The Hope” comes once a year and that their father took his boat out to the ship with his yearly fish catch and returned with supplies.  Now the young boy is in the position of providing for himself and his sister with little knowledge of how to do that.  They soon learn how in debt to the owner of “The Hope” they are.

This is much more than a book about survival.  It’s a deep look at family and loyalty.  I’ve seen comparisons to Charles Dickens’ work and this story.  The imperiled, hungry children, the colorful characters they come into contact with and the brilliant writing make it easy to see why.  This author is a poet and the language he uses is just lovely.  He adds quite a few quaint Newfoundland phrases that I wasn’t familiar with but enjoyed.  It’s truly heart wrenching to read of the ebb and flow of the relationship between this brother and sister over the years and the battles they faced, not only with the world around them but with each other.  I will now be on the lookout for other books from this excellent author.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

 

Memorable and touching coming of age saga

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This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Young children are faced with a life that no child should have to face in a school for Native American children called the Lincoln School.  It’s Minnesota in 1932 during the Great Depression and Odie and Albert are orphans living at the school with the Indian children.  Albert tries and usually succeeds in following the rules but Odie is always at odds with the head of the school, who he calls “The Black Witch”.  Odie spends far too much time in the Quiet Room with his friend, Faria – a rat – and endures far too many beatings.  Their best friend is Mose, an Indian boy who is unable to speak.  As their situation becomes more and more unbearable, they break away in a canoe, taking little Emily.

Mr. Krueger is an author who writes from deep within his heart and it shows in every word of his books.  This book is reminiscent of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and has that same sort of magic to it.  While this can be looked at as a simple story, four young children escaping an abusive situation and striving to find a home, it also has deep layers in it.  Odie struggles with his concept of God.  Is God good and loving or is God like a tornado?  Every time he has a slight chance at a better life, it’s taken from him.

The author also touches on the tragedy of the American Indians in his very special character, Mose.  Mose can’t speak because his tongue was cut out when he was too young to remember why.  While Moses travels with the others, he learns of an awful incident where over 30 Sioux natives were hung without a fair trial and he needs time apart from his non-native friends to absorb this side of his heritage.   I was unaware before reading this book that there were boarding schools like the Lincoln School where Native American children were sent to become more “civilized”.  They were forced to wear American style haircuts and clothing, were forbidden to speak their native language and their names were changed.  They were separated from their families who were living on reservations.

The author has included a large cast of colorful characters, such as Jack, who Odie nicknames the pig scarer, who has demons of his own to battle; Sister Eve, a faith healer traveling with the Sword of Gideon Healing Crusade; the Schofields and their daughter, Maybeth, who lights something new in Odie.

These four Vagabonds, as they refer to themselves, will always have a special place in my heart.  Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Beautifully written tale of a battle with nature and the evil of men

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The River by Peter Heller

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Two young men, Jack and Wynn, are the best of friends.  They complicate each other well.  Jack is a rugged, outdoors guy who was raised on a ranch in Colorado.  Wynn is a large man with a sweet, gentle soul.  They are both book lovers.  They’re enjoying a canoe trip down the Maskwa River in Canada, happily picking blueberries and fishing.  They’ve seen signs of a huge fire that’s on its way towards them but they have plenty of time.  That is, they did have plenty of time until they make the fateful decision to return to where they had heard a man and woman arguing in an effort to warn them of the oncoming fire.  They search for the couple but don’t find them.  The next day, a disoriented man comes down the river telling them that his wife has disappeared.  Has this man done something to his wife?  Or did the two drunk men they had also passed have something to do with this?  Should they return to the scene again to look for her with a devastating fire fast approaching?

Wow, this one certainly had my heart racing.  The dangerous predicament that these young men find themselves in is a suspenseful one.  But even more than that is the author’s brilliant characterization of Jack and Wynn.  These young men have always been on the same page about everything but now they are starting to see things differently and are starting to split apart.  Jack is suspicious of everyone and on the alert for danger, while Wynn believes the best of everyone and is harder to convince.   I absolutely loved both Jack and Wynn and took their divisiveness to heart.   I felt like I was riding down the river with them, even when they weren’t in the river themselves, as the author starts out leisurely describing beautiful landscapes and then the pace of the plot picks up faster and faster.  This is pure entertainment as we watch Jack and Wynn battle with nature and the evil of men.  I’ve read other books by this author and have loved each of them.  The author is a contributing editor to “Outside” magazine and “National Geographic Adventure” and has a deep understanding of nature and is expert in his depiction of it.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.