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Tender as Hellfire

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  548 ratings  ·  55 reviews
Paperback reissue of indie sensation Joe Meno's debut novel.

Dough and Pill are brothers bound by more than blood. The anguish of their past, the terror of their present, and the uncertainty of their future all underscore the only truth that is within their grasp: each other. For beneath the cruel surface of their trailer park community lies a menagerie of odd characters, e
Paperback, 220 pages
Published August 1st 2007 by Akashic Books (first published 1999)
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What an astonishingly beautiful, awful, brutal, stunning book.

Who are the players? Well, there's eleven-year-old Dough and his thirteen-year-old pyro brother Pill-Bug. (Their dad, who's dead, was familiar with Johnny Cash's "Boy Named Sue" theory.) They live in a trailer park with their mom and her new boyfriend and a three-legged, one-eyed pitbull they rescued from a dog-fight. The boys are furious white-trash fuckups—but the book is all told by Dough, who is devastated and miserable by his ow
Brandon Will
Meno's descriptions are amazing; this book is full of many scenes you will fully live, see, smell, and feel.

Here's a story of a few broken yet still beautiful souls, told through the eyes of an eleven-year-old, who is opening up to life without much to go on from his dismal surroundings.

He fears the future and the past catching up with him--in the form of the devil, who he is sure took his father from him.

He finds beauty in a lame one-eyed, three-legged mutt left for dead, glass eyes, and so
Joe Meno is an amazing author. You can tell a lot about how good an author is by reading his or her first book and Tender As Hellfire has all the elements of a well written story that will keep you intrigued from start to finish.

Dough is the narrator. You see the events unfold through his eyes and the quirky way he has of describing things is really great, so great in fact, that you feel as if you're right there beside him experiencing the same stuff.

I also liked Pill, Dough's brother. You can
I wrote a blurb for this for my job interview, but I don't remember it offhand. The book is about two brothers with damnation in their destiny. Pill and Dough, named thusly by their father in a "Boy Named Sue,"-way to toughen them up, live in Tenderloin. It's a trailer park. The book details (and details) their loss of innocence through fire, sex, abuse, dogfights, robbery, and much more. The devil is chasing these boys who carry the burden of their long gone father around wherever they go. It's ...more
this author is rekindling my love of reading. i feel my heart jump out and slice itself on the edges of some pages
Just a great book about a boy and how he sees his dyfunctional family
my favorite joe meno book thus far.
I first encountered Joe Meno way back in 2011 when I read The Boy Detective Fails , which was a wonderfully quirky story. That following October at the 2011 Boston Book Festival I picked up this novel and it's taken me almost four years to get to it. I'd love to say it was worth the wait, but I'm not really sure and that had very little to do with Meno's writing.

This was by far one of the worst copy edited books I've ever read. I found a mistake about halfway through (see photo at the end) and
Maybe if I could have read this when it came out, I'd be more impressed, but the whole thing feels super played out to me. Tender As Hellfire is the story of 10-year-old (turned 11-yrs) Dough and his 13-year-old brother Pill-bug. They're recently "white trash" after a move to a trailer park, the family following the mother's boyfriend there.

Everything is so over-the-top that I don't believe a damn word of it. The gimmicks and tricks are so obvious. Trying to make the narrator sound young by sta
This was an interesting look into a particular part of adolescence. An idea of the main protagonists' fate is determined before the first page comes to an end. And it is not a happy one. But still the book details a time in life (youth) where so many things seem certain, but there is still so much mystery. We are sure of who we think we are, yet, many things are strange and scary & that belief is often shaken & unstable. Leading to worry.

I enjoyed the excitement that existed in Dough &a
we-ell (always a good way to start a review)...avoiding the easy Salinger comparisons that inevitably arise whenever anyone writes something that isn't terrible featuring a protaganist under the age of eighteen or so, even if the comparison doesn't really fit, the book does capture a bit of that queer confusion surrounding being eleven or twelve. At the same time, the narrator's just a little too precocious for the book to ring true, and the various plotlines never really weave together into a c ...more
Short and Sweet Review Without Summary or Spoilers: This is tied with Meno's other well known book "Hairstyles of the Damned" for my ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK! I had an awkward and difficult youth as well, and can totally relate to being a total loner wandering through creek beds and wooded areas despising the town I live in and all the people in it. The contrast between the two brothers' reactions to their fate is intriguing and the depiction of life in the rural Midwest is fairly accurate to what ...more
Tender as Hellfire spans a year in the life of an eleven-year-old boy named Dough, and his brother, Pill-Bug. A story of these two boys, their trailer park, and how their past is shaping both their present and future. This book is filled to the brim with trailer park life: mutilated dogs, cars on blocks, the truckstop waitress who entertains cowboys and drivers at night... All of this, a result of Dough's and Pill's father's unexpected death and their move to Tenderloin (home of the fighting mea ...more
Patricia Bischoping
An amazing book. The story of two brothers with unusual names - Dough and Pill. Deceased father gave them these names to toughen them up. The book is well-written and the story is compelling. While the story takes the characters to the extreme, I think it is a story many children growing up today will recognize as their own.
Oh god, what a piece of crap. I love Joe Meno's Demons in the Spring. It's one of my favorites, but everything about this book is sub-par. The writing is repetitive, redundant, and generalized. He's way too adjective happy, which in itself is not a big deal, but he's short on details. The voice does not ring as authentic for the character's age, place, and experience, and the rules governing what the narrator does and does not know seem to shift. The overall story feels slapped together and I wa ...more
Mar 14, 2011 Milli rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
This book disgusted me, made me smile, pissed me off, made me think that my lame-ass town isn't as bad as it could be, made me feel hopeless and hopeful at the same time. Having read Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno, I was expecting something similar. It was not. I felt connected to each of the characters, except Pill, but it was amazing how he pushed everyone away and did that to me as a reader. His purposeful distance made me connect to his personality. Overall, a good story. Not for weak ...more
Sad tale of an American trailer park, complete with a cast of eccentric characters and how they interweave into the lives of Pill-Bug and Dough, two young boys forced to move by their mother sometime after their daddy dies unexpectedly. For teachers like me, it sheds a light on the unfortunate lives of lower-middle class/lower class students beyond the scope of school, and how their environs might shape their behavior. Themes of death and hopelessness run wild throughout, but I enjoyed Meno's de ...more
Mary Beth
meno is amazing and its a delight to see the world through dough's eyes. when you read the description of the book it seems like just another coming of age/young angst novel, yet meno's book is written for twenty-somethings who can appreciate a narrative that incorporates a glass eye, a handicapped dog, and an old man that salsa dances in the nude at midnight. my only problem with the book is the ending. meno starts to highlight the good vs. evil, doom vs. choice themes in a way that is too obvi ...more
David Steele
a near perfect book... like "gummo", except that you truly care about every character.
While early Meno reeks of the Story Workshop, Tender As Hellfire lacks the cliche overuse of grit and gore that often appears in related works. Tender As Hellfire uses huge amounts of grit, gore, and profanity but it works to an end of illustrating the town and characters within the world of the narrator, Dough. Meno is a crafty writer whose language is worth staying for but the plot moves slowly and ends sadly and without resolution.
The Joe Meno 4th of July holiday reading tradition continues for the fourth year in a row! I read the recently rereleased/reedited Akashic Books version of the text, and absolutely loved it. It may compete with Hairstyles of the Damned for my favorite Meno. It's about 10-20 pages too long, but incredibly sensitive and well done in general. It's his best achievement, so far, at marrying the noirish/potboiler form to the sadness and fumbling, precocious wisdom of a bunch of kids straight out of Sa ...more
Sometimes I break aeay from chic lit. And this book was definitely as far from the genre as can be imagined. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. A true glimpse into the lives of troubled tweens.
There's just something about Joe Meno's style of writing that is so satisfying.

Reading this, I couldn't figure out what it was. Was it his sentence structures? Was it the story itself? Either way, I could hardly put this down.

(If you like this, you should also read Meno's most recent novel, Office Girl.)

I read Tender As Hellfire on a trip to NYC, mostly on the long(ish) subway trips across town. Thanks to this book, I have almost no memories of NYC transit. :)
Again, I had difficulty relating to the story itself. Probably didn't help that it was told from an 11 year old boy's perspective, but I still enjoyed the writing. I felt like I was reading a movie script or something, like I could picture everything playing out on a movie screen. I think this is because the writing is simple, lyrical and almost familial. And I am now extremely interested to see a glass eye in person... intriguing.
If Salinger had written about white trash in middle America rather than middle class in the North East, he may have written something pretty similar to Tender As Hellfire. It is a well told coming of age story as related by the younger of a pair of troubled brothers. The only reason I've given it three stars as opposed to four is I am not sure of it's re-read value.
Melanie Ullrich
I love books about down-and-out families, and this one did not disappoint. Meno does a great job at describing his characters to the point where you can really feel the hardships and the mental scars of past traumas. This book really had its ups and downs for me and took longer to read than I like. I will still try the rest of Meno's collection.
Maybe 3 and a half. Discovered this on a whim and read it near the end of the school year. The usual growing up poor, weird, an outsider, but done really nicely. The story breaks down some near the end--starts out great but doesn't always deliver, but I think this is his first book, and it was good enough to get me to buy others.
Katie  Kurtz
Oh wait. Maybe this was the pretentious one. Between this and Voltaire's Calligrapher, it was a bad week at the library's new book shelves.
ABC Group
Meno is really good at recalling the alienation of youth and the emotional turmoil that comes with being a kid. This is my third book by him and I really liked this one. It's good...not as good as Hairstyles of the Damned, but it's certainly worth the read.
Brutally unhappy. That's how I feel about so much of Meno's work. There's something that happens in the last few pages of the book that makes the entire situation utterly hopeless; the one thing I was hoping would be left alone. Whomp.
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Joe Meno is a fiction writer and playwright that lives in Chicago. A winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award and the Society of Midland Author's Fiction Prize, he is the author of four novels, The Boy Detective Fails (Akashic 2006), Hairstyles of the Damned (Akashic 2004), Tender as Hellfire (St. Martin's 1999), and How the Hula Girl Sings (HarperCollins 2001). His short story collection is Blu ...more
More about Joe Meno...
Hairstyles of the Damned The Boy Detective Fails Office Girl The Great Perhaps How the Hula Girl Sings

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“After school the very next day, El Rey's mobile home was gone. I laid in bed and wondered what happens to people when they go, if they become like shadows, if they fade away when they disappear from your life. The only thing I could see was the broken picket fence. The only sound I could hear was the cry of birds being killed in the night.” 4 likes
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