By William Kent Krueger. The life-changing odyssey of four children.=
It is the summer of 1932 at the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota, a boarding school housing Native American children forcibly taken from parents, stripped of their heritage, and forced to provide free labor for local people. Although not Native American, almost thirteen-year-old Odie and his sixteen-year-old brother Albert O’Banion are orphans who have been sequestered at the school for four years.
Life at Lincoln is very hard for all the children, but especially for Odie, whose penchant for rebellion continually earns the wrath of Mrs. Brickman, the superintendent the children call the “Black Witch.” Odie is often beaten by a sadist member of the staff and sent to the quiet room, a shed with a dirt floor covered in straw, with a rat for company.
Albert is gifted mechanically and has become somewhat of asset to the school, but despite his warnings he is unable to tame Odie’s defiant nature. Their best friend is Mose, a mute Sioux boy they communicate with by signing, a skill learned from their deaf mother. The bright spot in their lives is four-year-old Emmy, who dotes on Odie, Albert and Mose.
Beginning with a tornado that kills Emmy’s widowed mother, a series of horrific events causes the four children to flee Lincoln. They set off in a canoe down the Gilead River heading for the mighty Mississippi. Their ultimate destination is St. Louis, where Odie and Albert plan to be reunited with their Aunt Julia.
The Depression-era pilgrimage of the four brave vagabonds is the crux of the novel. While being vigorously pursued by the Black Witch, they meet all manner of people on their journey, including struggling farmers, displaced families looking for a better life, traveling faith healers and lost souls of all kinds. Some are friends and some are foes.
In addition to finely crafted characters, the themes of this superbly written novel have so much to offer the reader. Among them are the vivid images of the waterways they traverse; the eternal battle of good versus evil; unique plot twists and turns; and fierce love and devotion to family. This tale will definitely etch itself in your memory.