I have been putting off this review for awhile now because I really didn't know where to start. I really wanted to like this book. Hell, I wanted to love it. And that just wasn't the case. I picked up Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (448 pgs, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008) for a number of reasons: As a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, it fit well with the Once Upon a Time Challenge. It is on the list of Printz honor books (and I have challenged myself to read them all). And most importantly, it is Nymeth's favorite book!! (Fortunately, she has chosen to forgive me for not liking it!)
There are plenty would call her a slut for it. Me, I was just glad she had shown me. Now I could get this embarrassment off me. Now I knew what to do when it stuck out its dim one-eyed head.
From the very first paragraph, you can tell this isn't going to be a Disney's re-telling of ANY fairy tale. Fourteen-year-old Liga lives in the woods with her father. Her mother is dead, she is scared to death of her father. Her father not only sexually abuses her, but has caused her to miscarry a couple of babies when she inadvertently gotten pregnant. Liga herself is so naive, she didn't even realize she was pregnant. But when it happens the third time, she tries to hide the fact from her father so she can have the baby.
When her father is killed by a passing carriage, Liga gets to keep the child she is carrying and her daughter Branza is born. If dealing with her father's abuse all those years wasn't bad enough, next she is attacked by five of the town's boys and gang-raped, causing yet another pregnancy. Liga then decides she has had enough pain from this world and tries to end her life and Branza's. But an intervening "spirit" won't allow it. She is given a chance at a better life in another "world". Similar to the one she knows, it is a place of her Heart's Desire. A plain vanilla world, where bad things don't happen and the bad people just don't exist. It is here that her second daughter Urdda is born.
But this Heaven can't last forever, and while Branza is content to live quiet and peacefully with just animals as friends, Urdda is more adventuresome. A few people from the "real" world have found their way into Liga's Heaven, and Urdda is determined to find out where there go. And this is the beginning of the end.
This is just a quick synopsis of the book. There is a lot more to it than just this. Other people have been able to enter Liga's Heaven. Some for their own selfish reasons. Others completely by accident. Basically, the book is broken into 3 parts. The Before Heaven, Heaven, and the Real World. I wanted to like this book, I really did. But it was just too harsh for me. I was expecting a fairy tale, and that is not what I got. Although the rape scenes are not explicit, Lanagan certainly doesn't pull her punches. It is tragic. The things that happen to this poor girl are tragic.
While some people liked the beauty of the story, I seemed to be more focused on the negatives. The real world was over-the-top harsh. There wasn't a lot of gray area here. When the women were returned to the real world, there was either good or bad. Not much in between, as you would normally see. And while, I liked the last section the best, the ending highly disappointed me. As far as I was concerned, there was no "happily ever after".
I can see how polarizing this book is: I think you will love it or you will hate it. Unfortunately, I happen to fall in the hate category. I almost quit reading after the first 2 chapters. And while I can appreciate the uniqueness of the story, I just didn't like it. If you are looking for a sweet, tender re-telling of a fairy tale, don't read this one. Because it's not. And I don't think I would consider it YA either. Maybe for older teens, but certainly not for the pre-teen or Tween set. I'm far from a prude, but the sex in this book is over-the-top. There is incest, gang-rape, drawf sex, and some really disturbing animal sex. But don't let me discourage you from reading it. In fact, I like to hear other opinions. I'm giving it 3/5 stars for being a unique and well-written story, but if I had to rate it for how much I enjoyed it it would only be a 1.