Friday, May 7, 2010

Tender Morsels

Lanagan, Margo. Tender Morsels. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Awards: Best Books (Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2008)
BCCB Blue Ribbon Book (2008)
A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (2008)
Locus Recommended Reading (Young Adult, 2008)
Publisher's Weekly Best Book (Children's Fiction, 2008)
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2008)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2009)
Printz Honor (2009)
World Fantasy Award (Novel, 2009)
And many more...

Liga's life is a brutal one. She lost her mother long ago and is now confined to life with her father. He won't let her go into town, where jeers of "the poacher's daughter" follow her. Instead he confines Liga to their home, where she is made to take up her late mother's role as wife, fulfilling wifely duties in the upkeep of their household and her father's marriage bed. When this life becomes too much to bear, Liga decides to end it. When she tries to throw herself and her daughter by her father over a cliff, she is rescued and taken to her personal heaven. Everyone is kind, and life is safe. Lisa raises her, now two, daughters in this place, but her heaven was not made for them. It begins to crack, letting elements of the real world in, until, finally, it becomes clear that they all must get out.

Brutal does not even begin to cover it. Liga's life with her father is a nightmare. It is clear that she is repeatedly raped by her father. It is not graphically described in the text, but is in the forefront of Liga's thoughts often and so often "discussed." The miscarriages he forces her to have through the use of teas and herbs, on the other hand, are described in graphic detail. The fact that Liga has no idea what is happening to her when she miscarries is, I think, part of why they are described in such detail. Even though she thinks about it often, her mind shies away from the acts her father performs on her. Her shame and self-preservation together keep the detail out of these account. As she slowly comes to realize that the rapes, teas, miscarriages, her monthly blood, and babies are all related, each of these acts in her past are revisited. And things don't even get better after Liga's father dies! Left alone in their cottage with only her infant daughter for company, Liga is gang-raped (again, not graphically described, but not exactly glossed over either) by a group of town boys. This is what finally makes her want to end her own, and her baby's, life.

That's the opening of the book. It's hard to read.

The first time I checked this book out of the library, I couldn't read the whole thing. Long before the gang-rape and attempted suicide, I returned the book. I didn't decide to check it out again until the Common Sense debacle with Barnes and Noble came out (see the comments for where Tender Morsels is mentioned). Still, I didn't get around to actually checking it out until a few weeks ago. I was determined to get through the horrible parts so that I could see Liga in her heaven, and after reading all of that, I needed to see Liga in her heaven. So many other readers had said that the wretched beginning is worth it once you get to the rest of the story , not to mention that I figured the whole book couldn't be ruined by the opening, given its many awards.

It is worth it.

The rest of the story is a fairytale. It is actually based on Snow White and Rose Red. Once Liga's daughters are old enough to have personalities, Tender Morsels becomes their story. It is about Branza and Urdda learning who they are as people and learning how to make their own way in what is, literally, their mother's world. Their story is beautiful, and I think the ugliness that preceeds it helps to make it so. Urdda grows up to be the awesomely headstrong and smart young woman that I always look for in book. I want a whole other book full of her, especially once she leaves her mother's heaven. Branza's nice too, but I clearly have my favorite.

But here is my dilemma: By the end, I really liked this book and I would love to recommend it, but to whom? I don't agree with the Common Sense rating at Barnes and Noble, that Tender Morsels is not appropriate for anyone under 18, but I do think that I may hesitate to recommend it to young adults that I do not know extremely well. What do you think? For those of you who have read this, to whom do you recommend it? Those of you who haven't, knowing all of the horrible things that happen, do you think you ever will?

Book source: Philly Free Library


Jo said...

I liked reading your review. I had picked this book up when it first came out, and had trouble getting through it (and returned it to the library without finishing it). However, maybe I'll give it another try --- perhaps I just needed to get a little further into it. :)

Lawral the Librarian said...

Jo - I know exactly how you felt! I also think that the beginning has less punch the second time around because you can kind of brace yourself for it.