Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace

by William Kent Kreuger

Overview: “That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.

Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family—which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother—he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.

Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.

Winner of the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel

Judy Stanton (02/07/17): Thanks to the great recommendations, I read Ordinary Grace and shared with the other readers an appreciation of a beautifully written novel that pulls you in and keeps you wanting to read more. I appreciated the careful character development, the intertwined relationships,and the description of life in a small town. I thought that Frank might grow up to be a detective, he always seemed to find the next clue, know where to look and who to approach to get more information. I'm not sure if knowing in advance that there was going to be a murder and suicide was a good thing, so that when someone went missing, the reader knew right away that that person was dead.
Rating: ****

Rona Simmons (12/11/16): I met this warm and very talented writer this past summer and took a chance on this book. Everyone else has already said much so I'll just say it went directly to my top ten list. In a word: Gobsmacked.
Rating: *****

Elaine Marlin (12/07/16): William Kent Krueger wrote a wonderful novel about a specific summer. Two brothers: Frank, 13 and his younger brother Jake,were children in Minnesota in 1961. Their father was the minister of three churches, one of them in Frank's small town. The main characters were the minister father, a transient Indian named Warren Redstone, Gus, a war buddy of the boys father, and Frank's brother Jake. These characters all had strong and steady CHARACTER. Frank is mostly a bystander who observes how each of these males act, and react to the myriad of events that summer.

Frank's father is a very calm man, guided by his deep religious faith. The father is steady in his actions about life. He is a good father. His need to minister to the townspeople shapes his every action (to the discontent of his wife). Gus, who lives in one tiny room in the basement of the local church, is a confident of the boys father. The boys trust Gus, and many times confess many events and feelings to him, rather than to their father. Gus always tells them to let their father know what has transpired, rather than keeping secrets from him. He is a very good listener, although he is reactive when he sees people doing wrong to others.

There are many times in the story that someone assumes an event transpires one way, and the father is more reflective. He lets things play out, he asks questions to those involved, rather than just believe what others say. Warren Redstone, a middle aged Native American Indian, who seems to find trinkets and belongings of dead people, is a loner, who is very difficult to figure out. He lives on the edge of the town in a lean-to, even though he has family members who live in town. Many are scared of him and want to blame him for various deaths. He helps Frank and prevents Frank from being brutalized by the town bully. Frank helps Warren escape the law at one point.

My favorite character is Jake, who stutters very badly. Jake is guided by a higher force. He always does the right thing. He is devoted to his older brother. He sees the good in people. He is kind to a deaf young woman who has no friends. When I think of "good" person, I know that Jake fits that description! Every interaction in this incredible story helps the reader see human nature more clearly! So many family issues to deal with: not family is exempt! I highly recommend that you read this novel. You will be a better person for it.
Rating: *****

Debbie Weiss (10/31/16): This is definitely the best book that I have read in a very long time. It is written beautifully and the character development is exceptional. I loved Frank and Jake and felt honored to be able to be able to read into 13-year-old Frank's adolescent mind. It was a difficult and memorable summer with people dying when they should not have. There is death, suicide, murder and complicated relationships. A family seems to be tearing apart under the pressures and events. The author seems to have a unique understanding of the human psyche. A wonderful read!
Rating: *****

Gail Reid (09/08/16): Ordinary Grace is so much more than an award-winning mystery.The narrator Frank Drum is a 53-year old man looking back at the events of a summer 40 years earlier in small town Minnesota. It's a summer when there are several deaths of mysterious circumstances. Ordinary Grace explores how the characters in the book experience death and grief differently and how faith, redemption, forgiveness, and miracles, if you believe in them, affect us and impact our lives.

This is a lovely story and I am still thinking about it days after I finished it. Thanks for the recommendation, Faith!
Rating: *****

Faith Bowers (08/09/16): On our local Hadassah book club reading list, Ordinary Grace asks questions about God, family and death. The writing is sparse but the characters are well developed even though the story is told by a 13 year old boy in the summer of 1961. I enjoyed the reflections of the times, the small town and the characters who question life. Krueger can tell a story, get you involved with all of them that live through this summer together.
Rating: ****

Joan Curtis (08/18/14): Sometimes, as an author, you’re given a story. It comes, just comes, and it’s so compelling that it haunts you until you’ve written it. For me, that was “Ordinary Grace”…I put everything I know about storytelling into this book,” said William Kent Krueger about his 2014 Edgar Award winning novel. Many of you who read my reviews know that awards do not faze me. I did not care too much for Goldfinch and I could list the Man Booker Award winners I thought worthy on one hand and perhaps 2 fingers. This time, however, the judges got it right. Congratulations to the Edgar Awards for recognizing an excellent book.

There is so much to like about Ordinary Grace that you should immediately go out and get it without reading further. I will, however, share what I found most compelling. First of all the writing was the best you'll read. It felt more literary than commercial fiction. Here are some of my favorite passages:
"To this day there are pieces (of music) I cannot hear without imagining my sister's fingers shaping the music every bit as magnificently as God shaped the wings of butterflies."
". . . birds so ordinary and profuse that they fill the air like dandelion fluff."
"He seemed old to me because his hair was no longer black but the dull color of a long-circulated five-cent piece."
". . .eyes whose blue was so intense it was as if he'd purchased pieces of the sky for their making."
"The dead are never far from us. They're in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air."

This is the story about a summer in a small Minnesota community. The protagonist, a thirteen-year-old boy tells us about that summer which begins with the tragic death of a child. He tells the story as a storyteller. The reader senses his adult presence throughout the book and yet the story is told in the words of an adolescent child. The characters are sensitively drawn. We understand their struggles and feel attached to each.

There is mystery here, but it isn't so much the mystery that keeps the reader reading. Sure, we want to find our more about the perpetrators of the deaths but even more, we want to find out what happens to the people we grow to love. Krueger does everything an author should do. He does not tell us too much. He does not cheat the reader. The final conclusion brings satisfaction and a clear understanding of what happened during that summer in 1961.

Ordinary Grace is a tragic story but a beautiful story. The title captures much more than its literal reference in the book. Krueger showed us what ordinary grace is. If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would. If you take my advice and pick up this book.
Rating: *****

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