This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
The author of Ordinary Grace sets this adventure novel with echoes of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey in 1932 Minnesota and Missouri. Four kids head south in a canoe, fleeing loss and harsh treatment at the Lincoln Indian Training School. Odie and his older brother Albert are orphans heading to a barely remembered aunt in St. Louis, while young Emmy clings to Sioux teen Mose after she’s lost everything in a tornado. Mose is mute, and the group share an often secret sign language. They meet a healer with a revival tent show, a madam, traveling families and vagabonds, and find temporary haven in a soup kitchen and friendship in a Hoover town. Odie is a storyteller, Albert can fix most mechanical equipment, Mose goes on a vision quest, and young Emmy reminds an eccentric farmer of his missing daughter. Poignant and lyrically written, this story of an unlikely family on an epic journey has moments of conflict balanced with simple joys, unpredictable adventures, and the possibility of danger around every river bend. This remarkable character-driven novel is a compelling read.