1. THE ODYSSEY AND STORYTELLING. The novel begins with this epigraph from The Odyssey: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story.” Odie is a storyteller. He regales the vagabonds with his story about the imp, fairy princess, giant, and wizard. What purpose do these stories serve in the novel, and in Odie’s imagination?
2. AUTHORIAL INSPIRATION. William Kent Krueger has said he drew inspiration from Homer, as well as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Do you see elements from these authors in this novel?
3. FEAR AND DANGER. Albert told Odie that “people are most afraid of things they don’t understand, and if something frightened you, you should get closer to it.” (p. 5-6). The children throughout come in contact with violence. Were they safer at the Lincoln School? Why were their encounters with danger later in the story different than what they experienced at school?
4. THE GREAT DEPRESSION. The story is set in the summer of 1932, during the American Great Depression. The current state of the world drives much of the story, from who they meet, to how they travel, to where they end up. How did the Great Depression pull people together? How did it drive people apart?
5. NATIVE AMERICANS: SILENCE AND SYMBOLISM. Though Odie and Albert start the story at a school for Native American children, we don’t get to know many of the Native children other than Mose, who is mute and speaks only through sign language. Once the children learn of the execution of the Sioux, it changes Mose. None of the Native characters have a voice until the children encounter Forrest later in the story. Do you think this was intentional on the author’s part? What do you suspect he meant to convey with that choice?
6. SPIRIT AND METAPHOR. Odie and the other characters have many names for God throughout—God as shepherd, tornado, river, love, peace. How does Odie’s understanding of God change over the course of his story?
7. TRUST. The vagabonds meet various characters throughout, almost none completely trustworthy for different reasons. As we found out more about each character, some of their choices become clear, and others never earned the vagabond’s trust. Who did you ultimately trust? Who never earned your trust? Can you put your finger on why?
8. FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness plays a pivotal part in This Tender Land. Aunt Julia asks Odie for his forgiveness after he tells her his story. Sister Eve says the only prayer she knows will be answered is a prayer for forgiveness. Who does Odie need to forgive? Who needs Odie’s forgiveness?
9. SETUP AND PAYOFF. In the intro video, Anne quotes a novelist friend who says, “Everything that matters in fiction is setup and payoff,” and that This Tender Land has one of the best setup-and-payoff sequences she’s ever read. Did you notice any seemingly insignificant details early in the story that proved to be significant later? What were they?
10. THE ENDING. What do you think of the ending of Odie’s story? When he imagines the ending, do you think that’s how it really happened?