Emily May's Reviews > Tender Morsels

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
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's review
Jul 11, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: young-adult, 2012, fairy-tales
Read from April 05 to 16, 2012

Though I thought Tender Morsels was a fantastically-written and unbelievably well-imagined story, my first instinct is to throw my hands up in warning at any teenager (or - in fact - any adult) who might come strolling along in search of just another typical fairytale retelling. Because that's what this is in it's barest form, it is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm's tale of Rose Red & Snow White: A Grimms Fairy Tale. And don't we all just love the call of the "dark" retellings? We imagine blood and gore and perhaps sex... what I don't think the majority of people imagine is incest, gory miscarriages, gang rapes and bestiality.

I kid you not... in just the first couple of chapters we are introduced to Liga - a girl who has been repeatedly raped by her father and then forced to drink some gut-churning concoctions in order to force the abortion of any pregnancies - and we see the absolute horrors of sexual abuse she has lived through that have made her the person she later becomes. A person who is so afraid that her fear manifests into a powerful magic which allows Liga to create for herself and her daughters - Branza and Urdda - a world separate from that of reality. A world where the three of them can hide in harmony.

But Liga's attempts to shield her daughters from the cruelty of the real world ultimately fail. Branza becomes a slave to the same fears that plagued her mother, and Urdda's wild curiosity gets the better of her. After time, the border starts to blur between the real world and this magical realm of Liga's imagination.

I was utterly enthralled by the story and by the strength of Ms Lanagan's characters. Above all else, she is undoubtedly a brilliant writer. But... THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK. It just isn't. Never before have I read a book so wrongly categorised. Even if teens were ready to stomach this kind of brutality and blatant sexuality, I don't think the average teenager would appreciate this kind of story anyway.

There's a lot of dark, unhealthy sexual stuff going on in Tender Morsels. I don't mind sex in books, I don't mind lots of sex in books, but even I found it hard to stomach the repeated rapes, incest and bestiality. I honestly didn't know what to think when a girl gets a sexual thrill from having a bear lick her breast... this just takes perversity to a whole new level. And was that whole thing really necessary? Hmm?

Unlike most books that I rate highly, I refuse to recommend this to anyone in particular. It is too strange and gross and disturbing for me to be confident that anyone will like it. You will have to be quite the adventurous reader and you will have to be able to cringe and move on at some of the weirdest bits. But I doubt you'll be unaffected, that's for sure. Now I'm going to go ponder what it says about me that I was unmoved by Wonder and thought this dark, rapey novel was actually really good.
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Comments (showing 1-35)

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Emily May Will do! It's very strange... but I've come to expect that from Margo Lanagan.

Ann-Marie nice - it´s on my shelf

message 33: by Alyssa (new)

Alyssa I keep passing this one in the library because it looks a little weird, but maybe, since you liked it, I'll give it a go next time I see it :)

Emily May Approach with caution, this is really disgusting in pretty much every way imaginable. It just so happens that it's well written and Ms Lanagan has a fantastic imagination as well. How dark can you handle it? LOL, this is not the kind of book I can easily recommend.

message 31: by Judy (new) - added it

Judy Disgusting? are you able to elaborate in what way? I have a weak stomach for certain things heh. Maybe I should wait until your review to attempt this one.

Emily May Judy, I'm starting my review shortly and I'll try to elaborate as much as possible without getting too spoilery. However, I'm not sure this is one for a weak stomach, I'm afraid.

message 29: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Sammis The descriptions of the mother's less than sanitary cooking take a strong stomach to read.

Aly (Fantasy4eva) that was my prob with it. It was just too weird. So much so that I just found it jarring and couldn't get into it.
Didn't finish it.
Maybe I'll get back to it someday :)

Emily May It seems a lot of people share your opinion, Aly, I'm just a weirdo :P

Aly (Fantasy4eva) You are not!
I envy you.
I've always thought I was good at stomaching stuff, but i just caved this time around.
Have you heard of her new novel?
Her writing is a little different from what i'm used to, maybe that's a part of it. Because i gave her new book a few pages and again couldn't get into it.

It's annoying because i feel like i'm missing out on something that clearly many click with :/

Catie Apparently I'm in the same "thought this rapey novel was good but wasn't moved by Wonder" camp. :-\

Great review of this one - I still can't really get my thoughts together about it.

Emily May It must be a marmite thing :)
And yeah, I have an ARC of her new book. I'm hoping that my tolerance for her weirdness will help me like that too. But I can easily see why so many won't love her style.

Emily May Catie wrote: "Apparently I'm in the same "thought this rapey novel was good but wasn't moved by Wonder" camp. :-\

Great review of this one - I still can't really get my thoughts together about it."

Thanks Catie :) And phew, I'm glad I'm not in the loner's camp on this one!

Aly (Fantasy4eva) oh, and just noticed how creepy that cover is. wow is is creepy!

Reynje This is a brilliant review, Emily. And though I haven't read Wonder yet, I think I may be joining you and Catie in that camp :) It's such an unsettling book, and the writing is incredible.

I agree with your thoughts on categorisation. I haven't got around to reviewing this properly yet - but I was thinking something very similar to you in terms of the audience.

Emily May Thank you! :) I can't wrap my head around why anyone would think this is a suitable YA book... the age of the characters? Is that to be the deciding factor no matter what else is in a book? :/

message 19: by jesse (new) - added it

jesse gave it 1 star, i think this really wasn't a book i was ready for. maybe someday. maybe never.

message 18: by Brandi (new) - added it

Brandi My curiosity is piqued now. Great review!

message 17: by Ivy (new)

Ivy Thanks for the review. I think I'll pass on this one.

Megan Apparently Lanagan intended this to be an adult book, but the publishers felt it was YA. Such a bizarre decision!

Emily May Thanks for the comments everyone! :)

message 14: by Naomi (new) - added it

Naomi Oh no, I've just ordered this and got it today...I hope I can stomach it since the only perverted book I've read was Ransom My Heart by Meg Cabot during my more girly teen days.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I love your review, Emily, and agree with many of your thoughts and opinions. :)

Perhaps you've already heard this from Tatiana (as she informed me), but Margo Lanagan never intended to label Tender Morsels as a YA novel- it was purely the publishers decision. And I agree with the point you made; the majority of teenage readers probably wouldn't be able to fully comprehend nor appreciate this novel anyways.

Emily May Thanks Leanne! And yes, I have heard and I don't blame Ms Lanagan for this decision... it's just one of the many bizarre decisions made by the publishing world. I can't imagine why anyone who read this would see it as an ideal choice for the YA market :/

message 11: by Leigh (new)

Leigh Ms. Emily, as a trusted reviewer I'd like to ask your opinion of all the violence, especially sexual violence, apparently deemed necessary in books these days. I'm no delicate flower, but jeez louise, it seems nearly inescapable! Is it just as simple as "lowest common denominator" or "sex sells, no matter how horrible"? Or is something else going on, in your opinion?

Wayong Great review! After I read Lanagan's novel, I saw it in the new children's book section -- right next to books geared to kids ages 7 to 12. I pulled the book off the shelf & talked to the librarian. I explained to her that while I loved the book, Tender Morsels is not appropriate for middle grade readers. She said that none of the children & YA librarians read the book yet & sometimes they have to rely on blurbs, genres & book covers. Based on my recommendations, she recategorized the book. Now, the librarians there & other libraries ask me for recommendations & appropriateness of books.

I didn't think the violence & sexual abuse was gratuitous: it was very purposeful & intrinsic to the plot. That said, as you mentioned, it's not a YA fantasy or cross-over all ages novel.

I talked to one of the people who works for the publisher who said Lanagan was intended for the adult reader, but somehow this intention got lost, it got slapped with a book cover that looks like it would appeal to 9 yr old & distributed to children's book sellers & librarians.

I would recommend Tender Morsels to a certain type of reader:
> mature 'well read' readers
> minimum age: 16 (who read on a college level & can tolerate a couple graphic scenes-- while the scenes are short, they are intense)
> recommend TM for readers of experimental & nonlinear fiction
> understand abstract concepts & language & use of fairy tales & fables as metaphors
> read 'weird fiction', literary dark fantasy & poetic/prose novels
> enjoy:
*Chizine Publications, Centipede Press, Earthing Press
*Cat Valente
*Michael Cisco
*Geoff Ryman
* 'Chip' Samual Delaney
* Mieville
*Paul Witcover
Btw, Margo, come to ReaderCon! You'll have a very interested audience at the convention. :-)

Emily May Thanks Wayong, I completely agree that it is really only suited to "mature" readers. Over sixteen, at least. I think some of the blame has to go to those who designed it; this cover isn't as bad, but the one with the cartoon bear would make you think it was a book suitable for young children.

Marisol I thought it was a very good book! Yes some of the stuff in this book is strange but overall the book is just amazing!

Emily May Agreed :)

message 6: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie I just want to thank you for warning about the incest and rapes in the book. I'm not able to handle incest at all and can barely handle rape in books, so thank you, thank you, thank you for saving me from reading something that I'm sure would keep me from being able to sleep.

Emily May Stephanie wrote: "I just want to thank you for warning about the incest and rapes in the book. I'm not able to handle incest at all and can barely handle rape in books, so thank you, thank you, thank you for saving ..."

No problem. Glad I could help :)

message 4: by Tim (new)

Tim White Too judgemental and spiteful fr a review. Your morality is your business. Your ignorant comments reveal more abt you than your understanding of literature.

Emily May Tim wrote: "Too judgemental and spiteful fr a review. Your morality is your business. Your ignorant comments reveal more abt you than your understanding of literature."

I hope my comments reveal that I draw the line at a lack of sexual consent - whether that be with children, animals or adult human rape victims.

Wayong In Australia, the publisher marketed Tender Morsels as a surrealist "weird fiction" novel (look it up: "weird fiction" is a sub genre of literary fantasy). When I talked to him & Margo, they were horrified that it was marketed as a children's novel & had a cover that would appeal to an 8 to 12 yr old reader.
I was at a children's bookstore where a young 20something worker recommended it to a father who was looking for something new for his 9 yr old boy who loves fantasy. When the clerk was busy, I pulled the father aside & described the book & some of disturbing scenes & nonlinear aspects of Tender Morsels. He looked horrified... I said it was a fantastic novel- but for him, not his kids. I made different recommendations & he ended purchasing those books instead. I'm guessing that the clerk didn't read it & assumed that it was appropriate for a 9 yr old boy.
So, whenever I'm at a library & I've read a novel that is really for a mature & older reader, I talk to the librarians. Since there are so many books to order & select, librarians don't have time to read everything & base their readership on the cover, blurb & the marketing comments with the exception of "recommended books".

Each country has its different standards, covers & marketing, and even some of the language is changed.
I believe that if the publishers were upfront & reiterated who the target audience is supposed to be, there would not be any confusion. Then, books would be reviewed for the quality of its writing, not that the books are terrible because they're not appropriate for kids.

Wayong Tim, if you read the review, Emily said she really liked it, but had many caveats for people who haven't read it.

If you have just read the blurb & saw the U.S. Cover, you're expectations would be very different than the actual book. Have you read it? Would you recommend it to an 8 yr old or to an adult? What about people who have PTSD & are triggered by graphic scenes or someone who has a strong stomach & enjoy weird fiction?

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