Saturday, March 27, 2010
Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
Last week when Hurt Locker won the Academy Award Oscar for Best Picture I had to groan. Now to be fair I haven't seen this movie but I know its type. It is artistic, thoughtful, and well-acted. I'm guessing it is also horrifying and depressing, the type of film that people see and think to themselves, "well, that was good but I'll never watch it again." That is exactly the way I feel about this Printz Honor book, Tender Morsels. It is artistic, thoughtful, and extremely well-written. It is also horrifying in parts and I cannot get teens to read it, let alone reread it. Obviously the Printz Award committee members, like the Academy members, are concerned about literary (artistic) merit when making their selections of the best-of-best or each year the most popular book (movie) would win. But shouldn't general appeal factor somehow into the selection decisions? I'm not saying I think that Twilight should have won a Printz Award, but I do think the winners should be books that teens will read when coaxed.
Tender Morsels is based on the Grimm's Fairy Tale, "Snow White and Rose Red". I wasn't familiar with this tale but didn't take the time to look into it until I was nearly done reading the book. I recommend that you start with the fairy tale. It will inform you as to the direction and tone of the book. Try this link to read the story. The title comes directly from a quote in the tale, "Come, take these two wicked girls, they are tender morsels for you, fat as young quails, for mercy's sake eat them."
I was not prepared for the opening chapters of this book. They were full of incest, miscarriages, rape and later sodomy- though never graphically described, I was repelled nonetheless. Surely the actual fairy tale wasn't so graphic!? Perhaps is was. I only read the sanitized, family-friendly version. I know that Grimm's Fairy Tales were often racy.
About the tale the book jacket says it is , "a vivid, dark story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them." Liga, a young mother as a result of incest and rape is so distraught that is is just about to kill herself and the children when, by magic, is she transported to her heaven- where everyone and everything lives in harmony. In this world it seems a little like everyone is on lithium- no highs, no lows, just calm serenity. But is that any way to live? And what if one persons heaven isn't an others? As the book jacket implies, heaven is broached, again by magic, allowing a greedy dwarf and men in the body of bears to enter. It is at these moments of disharmony that the book is at its best. Liga and her daughters are eventually forced out of "heaven" and have to learn to cope with the real world.
Imaginative? Yes. At times confusing? Yes-particularly when the narrator shifts and it takes a while to figure out who is talking. Well-written? Yes. Will I recommend this book to teen readers? Unlikely, unless the reader has already proven to be willing to struggle through difficult books to get at the gems within. I actually feel guilty about saying this- as if I think that kids should only read books that are easy to "get into". That is not the case. I just think the faults outweigh the merits of this book. Enough said.
Older teens to adults. 2.5 stars out of 5.