Tender Morsels by Margot Lanagan (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008, 448pp.)
Depending on who you are and what you like, Tender Morsels may end up being your favorite book or a just a book you wish you’d never picked up. It takes the fairy tale of “Snow White and Rose Red” and fleshes out the characters and the world it takes place in (a synopsis of this tale can be found here.) A victim of repeated brutality, Liga, the teenage mother of two young daughters, is allowed to live in a tranquil, alternate reality created by a mysterious higher power. There, they live in prosperity, but their lives of peace are interrupted when an accident causes Liga’s world to rejoin with the real one.
Tender Morsels is not really a YA novel in the traditional sense. A young adult novel focuses on teenage characters and their problems, which can cover adult topics, but will probably not discuss them in a graphic nature. The main problem is with the story’s extreme content. Liga is repeatedly raped and impregnated by her own father (who later makes her drink teas that induce miscarriages); after her father dies, she is gang raped by a group of boys from the nearby village. While Lanagan doesn’t describe the rapes in graphic detail (she prefers to either refer to the act in hindsight, or use the “fade to black” method), she does put a fair amount of detail in the miscarriage scenes. This happens within the first few chapters.
But Lanagan’s novel is not shocking without reason. She uses Liga’s story as a method for exploring the fear of living in a brutal world, and the bravery one must show in order to survive it and live a fulfilling life. As one character says to Liga’s oldest daughter:
“[Y]ou are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart. However sweet that other place was, it was not real. ... [Y]ou could not have stayed there forever and called yourself alive” (356-7).
If you can make it past the first two chapters unfazed, then you should be able to finish the book (that is, if you can get past the novel’s stagnant middle section). Overall, an interesting read. I’m just not sure that it belongs in the Young Adult section. A 2009 Printz Honor Book. Recommended for Ages 16-Up.
Click on cover for image source.