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Tender Morsels

Tender Morsels

3.9 24
by Margo Lanagan

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Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied


Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, August 1, 2008:
“A marvel to read and will only further solidify Lanagan’s place at the very razor’ s edge of YA speculative fiction.”

Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2008:
"Lanagan's poetic style and her masterful employment of mythic imagery give this story of transformation and healing extraordinary depth and beauty."

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, September 8, 2008:
"Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist."

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2008:
"By turns horrifying and ribald, witty and wise, this tour de force of a novel almost demands multiple readings to fully appreciate each of its layers."

Starred Review, School Library Journal, November 2008:
"Beautifully written and surprising, this is a novel not to be missed."

Publishers Weekly

In her extraordinary and often dark first novel, award-winning story writer Lanagan (Red Spikes) creates two worlds: the first a preindustrial village that might have sprung from a Brueghel canvas, a place of victims and victimizers; the second a personal heaven granted to Liga Longfield, who has survived her father's molestations and a gang rape but, with one baby and pregnant again, cannot risk any further pain. As she raises her two daughters, placid Branza and fiery Urdda, she discovers that her universe is permeable: a dwarf or "littlee man," in Lanagan's characteristically knotted parlance, slips in and out of her world in search of treasure; and a good-hearted youth also enters, magically transformed into a bear in the process. A less kind man-bear follows, and then a teenage Urdda, avid for a richer life with the "vivid people," figures out how to pass through the border, too. Writing in thick, clotted prose that holds the reader to a slow pace, Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist. With suggestions of bestiality and sodomy, the novel demands maturity-but the challenging text will attract only an ambitious audience anyway. Ages 14-up. (Oct.)

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VOYA - Sarah Flowers
At the heart of this brilliant novel is the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red, but Lanagan builds out from it in all directions. When fifteen-year-old Liga's life in this world becomes unbearable-she has one daughter conceived in incest and is pregnant with another as a result of a gang rape-she intends to throw herself off a cliff. Instead she has an encounter with a strange being and wakes up in her own personal heaven-the world looks the same but without any of the people or things that could harm her. She happily raises her daughters Branza and Urdda there, unaware that the line between her world and the real world is occasionally porous. A greedy dwarf and two bears who are really transformed men are the catalysts for the three women's journey back to the real world, where they must learn how to live among other people-the good and the bad. Lanagan creates a rich and complex world, packed with fully realized characters. Her writing is so beautiful that even the most brutal and painful scenes are not graphic or sordid but heartbreaking. Older teens, especially fans of fairy-tale retellings, will want to immerse themselves in Liga's two worlds. This book is one that will stay with the reader for a long time. Reviewer: Sarah Flowers
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
In the first two chapters of this book, fourteen-year-old Liga endures two herbally-induced abortions, repeated rape by her father, and—after he has been killed and she has carried the last pregnancy to term—a gang rape by the local "village lads." Driven to near madness, and pregnant again from the gang rape, she seeks to end her life and the lives of her born and yet-unborn "babs" by jumping off a cliff. But magical forces suspend her from death and give her two jewels to "plant." Liga's world is thus transformed into her personal version of heaven, somewhat like the situation in Sebold's The Lovely Bones. Liga's heaven is gentle and predictable. All of the cruel people are gone from the nearby village of St. Olafred, and only grassy parks remain where their houses stood. Here, people still make their living as wool merchants and laundresses, and creating fine embroidery can provide a living. Liga's daughters, fair-haired, gentle Branza and wild, dark-haired Urdda, grow to be teenagers in this safe place. Then, the boundaries between the "true world" and Liga's are breached, first by a greedy "little man" seeking treasure, and then by various men-turned-bears. Adventurous Urdda escapes to the more vivid, exciting, and dangerous version of the world, leaving her mother and sister grieving until they too are thrust back into reality. When Urdda learns of her origins, she unwittingly takes revenge on the men who harmed her mother as her previously unknown magical powers take on a life of their own. Relations between bears, wolf and women are highly sexualized though never consummated. The language is a well-crafted variation on old English that sometimes feels tediousand sometimes seems positively poetic. The worlds and characters created are complex and complete. The emotional experience ranges across the spectrum: despair, anger, sorrow, fear, love, and joy. This is a challenging and unforgettable read. It seems an unlikely recommendation for male readers and would be appropriate only for the most mature and determined female fans of fantasy. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

A traumatized teen mother magically escapes to her own personal heaven in this daring and deeply moving fantasy. The characters, setting, much of the action, and even the very words of the title are taken from the Grimm Brothers' "Snow-White and Rose-Red," a sweet story of contrasting sisters who live deep in the forest and whose innocent hearts are filled with compassion for a lonely bear and an endangered dwarf. In the novel, Liga's daughters-one born of incest, the other of gang rape-first flourish in Liga's safe world. But encounters with magical bears and the crusty dwarf challenge them to see a world beyond their mother's secure dreamscape. Eventually the younger one, Urdda, and subsequently her sister and Liga are drawn back into the real world in which cruelty, hurt, and prejudice abound. But it is also only there that they can experience the range of human emotion, develop deep relationships, and discover who they truly are. The opening chapters vividly portray the emotional experience of a boy's first sexual encounter, mind-numbing abuse by Liga's father, and a violent gang rape. It's heavy fare even for sophisticated readers, but the author hits all the right notes, giving voice to both the joys and terrors that sexual experience can bestow without saying more than readers need to know to be fully with the characters. While the story explores what it means to be human, it is at its heart an incisive exploration of the uses and limitations of dissociation as a coping mechanism. Beautifully written and surprising, this is a novel not to be missed.-Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA

Kirkus Reviews

Lanagan's debut U.S. novel after three spectacular short-story collections, including the Printz Honor-winning Black Juice (2005), scintillates, titillates and altogether wows. Her trademark linguistic gyrations bring life to this reimagined, utterly fresh take on "Snow White and Rose Red." When an unknown power grants Liga her own personal heaven after she is first abused by her father and then gang-raped, she unknowingly ruptures the reality of St. Olafred's. Weaving together multiple characters—Liga, her two daughters, several men transformed into bears by magic gone awry and more—this is ultimately a tale of how the finite worlds of experience bind the infinite worlds of possibility. The author creates worlds with a sure hand, incorporating magic as well as the mundane, ugly realities: jeering boys, poverty, gossip. Similarly, her characters are fully realized people who also fulfill their fairy-tale roles. By turns horrifying and ribald, witty and wise, this tour de force of a novel almost demands multiple readings to fully appreciate each of its layers. Not to be missed. (Fantasy. 15 & up)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
950L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Liga’s father fiddled with the fire, fiddled and fiddled. Then he stood up, very suddenly.

“I will fetch more wood.”

What’s he angry about? Liga wondered. Or worried, or something. He is being very odd.

Snow-light rushed in, chilling the house. Then he clamped the door closed and it was cozy again, cozy and empty of him. Liga took a deep private breath then blew it out, slowly. Just these few moments would be her own.

But her next breath caught rough in her throat. She opened her eyes. Gray smoke was cauliflowering out of the fireplace, fogging the air. The smell! What unnamable rubbish had fallen in the fire?

She coughed so hard she must put aside the rush mat she was binding the edge of and give her whole body over to the coughing. Then pain caught her, low, and folded her just like a rush-stalk, it felt, in a line across her belly, crushing her innards. She could hardly get breath to cough. Sparks that were not from the fire jiggled and swam in her eyes—she could not see the fire for the smoke. She could not believe what she was feeling.

The pain eased just as abruptly. It let her get up. It gave her a moment to stagger to the door and open it, her insides dangerous, liquid, hot with surprise and readying to spasm again.

Her father was halfway back from the woodpile, his arms full. He bared his teeth at her, no less. “What you doing out?” White puffs came with the words. “Get back inside. Who said you could come out?”

“I cannot breathe in there.” The cold air dived down her throat and she coughed again.

“Then go in and don’t breathe! Shut the door—you’re letting the smoke out. You’re letting the heat.” He dropped the wood in the snow.

“Has the chimney fallen in? Or what is it?” She wanted to step farther out and look.

But he sprang over the logs and ran at her. She was too surprised to fight him, and her insides were too delicate. The icicled edge of the thatch swept down across the heavy sky, and she was on the floor, the door slammed closed above her. It was dark after the snow-glare, the air thick with the billowing smoke. Outside, he shouted—she could not hear the words—and hurled his logs one by one at the door.

She pressed her nose and mouth into the crook of her elbow, but she had already gulped smoke. It sank through to her deepest insides, and there it clasped its thin black hands, all knuckles and nerves, and wrung them, and wrung them.

Time stretched and shrank. She seemed to stretch and shrink. The pain pressed her flat, the crashing of the wood. Da muttered out there, muttered forever; his muttering had begun before her thirteen years had, and she would never hear the end of it; she must simply be here while it rose from blackness and sank again like a great fish into a lake, like a great water snake. Then Liga’s belly tightened again, and all was gone except the red fireworks inside her. The smoke boiled against her eyes and fought in her throat.

The pains resolved themselves into a movement, of innards wanting to force out. When she next could, she crawled to the door and threw her fists, her shoulder, against it. Was he out there anymore? Had he run off and left her imprisoned? “Let me out or I will shit on the floor of your house!”

There was some activity out there, scraping of logs, thuds of them farther from the door. White light sliced into the smoke. Out Liga blazed, in a dirty smoke-cloud, clambering over the tumbled wood, pushing past him, pushing past his eager face.

But it was too late for the cold, clean air to save her; her insides had already come loose. She could not run or she would shake them out. Already they were drooling down her legs. She must clamp her thighs together to hold them in, and yet walk, and yet hurry, to the part of the forest edge they used for their excrements.

She did not achieve it. She fell to her knees in the snow. Inside her skirt, so much of her boiling self fell away that she felt quite undone below the waist, quite shapeless. No, look: sturdy hips. Look: a leg on either side. A blue-gray foot there, the other there. Gingerly, Liga sat back in a crouch to lift her numbing knees off the snow. The black trees towered in front of her, and the snow dazzled all around. She heaved and brought up nothing but spittle, but more of her was pushed out below by the heaving.

She crouched, panting. From her own noises she knew she had become some kind of animal; she had fallen as low as she could from the life she had had before Mam died. Everything had slid from there, out of prosperity, out of town, out of safety, when Mam went, and this was where of course it ended, with Liga an animal in the snow, tearing herself to pieces with the wrongness of everything.

With one last heave, her remaining insides dropped out of her. She knelt over their warmth, folded herself down, and waited to die.

But she did not die there. The snow pained against her forehead and her knees, and the fallen mass of her innards began to lose its heat in the tent of her skirt.

She tried to lift herself off it. At first her knees would not unbend, so she tipped herself forward onto her front . . . paws, they felt like, her front claws. And hoisted her bottom up from there.

“Oh, my Gracious Lady.” Her voice sounded drunken and flat. Between pink footprints, her innards lay glossy and dark red. Her feet were purple, blotched yellow, weak and wet with melting pink snow.

She should go back to the house—that was all she knew. And so she labored towards it, top-heavy, slick-thighed, numb-footed, and hollow, glancing behind as if afraid the thing would follow her, along its own pink trail.

Da snatched the door open as soon as she touched it. He stood there, hands on hips. “What’s a-matter with you?” The air around him was clear and warm; in the crook of his arm, the fire flowed brightly up around the new logs. Would he even let her in?

Meet the Author

Margo Lanagan’s story collection, Red Spikes, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book and a Horn Book Fanfare, and Black Juice was a Printz Honor Book. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

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Tender Morsels 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Lawral More than 1 year ago
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 here at the Barnes and Noble website. 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 that was displayed 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. That said, this book will have its readers, both teen and adult. Book source: Philly Free Library
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For all the complaints and warnings that this book is graphic, unless my Nook is skipping pages, it is graphic in the way most of Tarantino's movies are graphic-there is the suggestion of brutality and violence, but the bulk of it is happening "out of frame"-and your mind fills in the violence, "witnesses" it, of it's own accord. That said, I found this book incredibly moving, and cried throughout the journey of Liga and her daughters. Healing, finding one's place in the world, and holding on to the things in your life that are good while your heart is breaking were all things that I took away from reading it. The prose was a bit hard to get into at first, but as I devoured the book from cover to cover in about 5 hours or so, obviously not THAT hard. Highly recommended-yes, even for teens, who know or suspect a lot more about the darker sides of life than we give them credit for.
hatter99 More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with everything littleperson wrote.let me tell you for years I was in a pit of despair,unable to break free of its grip but then I found this book.And a miracle happened.I could go on with my life and something changed in me.I just...I can't explain it.Tender Morsels is just breathtaking and I have to say that it is a spark of hope in a dark world. If you don't believe me read this book.Find out for yourself.And experience the most beautiful piece of literary work ever written.Live this book.Taste this book.Become this book.Yes this book.Tender Morsels.
littleperson More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the most beautifully and thoughtfully written works of art ever to touch down on the face of this earth. I live this book. I breathe this book. I feel this book deep within me. How can I better explain Tender Morsels?... Life. Live. Breathe....Tender Morsels.
cories More than 1 year ago
I won't go into the plot points as other reviewers have noted them already. My issue is that after all the trauma Liga went through, I want her to have a happier ending than being acknowledged as a good mother of Branza and Urdda. I think part of the issue is that this book is written like a fairy tale and I expect to have a satisfying ending to such books - not necessarily happy, but at least satisfying. For instance, I like "The Dead-Tossed Waves" by Carrie Ryan, yet another post-apocalyptic, dystopic teen read; the ending is not happy but it is satisfying. This is a book that I would not recommend lightly to anyone and, furthermore, I feel that I would have been better off not to have read it. I don't need to be this upset over a teen book.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Awesome book but subject matter is uncomfortable. Although the (rape for example) scenes are not in detail it is very suggestive. The only thing I did not like about the book was it jumped around too much and the ending felt dragged out. And I would hope there would be a sequal. Too many loose ends. Other than that it is a great rendition of the Blood Red faery tale.
Leda_and_the_Swan More than 1 year ago
This was a nice re-telling of the Snow White and Rose Red Fairytale; tho not the Snow White of our Western lexicon. I prefer books that, like all fairytales, address deep, often self conscious struggles. Tender Morsels does not disappoint.
Ree_Anderson More than 1 year ago
I am nearly always a fan of retellings of classic fairy tales. Nearly always. Honestly, I can't say whether I hated this novel or loved it. It certainly is not a novel for just anyone, and I definitely don't think it's appropriate for the younger side of the Young Adult age range. In fact, I'm pretty sure the themes in this book (incest (forced), more rape, hints of bestiality, forced abortions, suicide contemplation, sodomy (again...forced), gang rape...) make it way too intense for the younger set and is perhaps a touch too over the top for some adults. That said... Liga is a character you want to see persevere. You want to see her thrive and live and just -be- with no further atrocities committed against her. My heart really did ache for her. That's really the only reason I kept reading - I did have to find out what happened to the poor girl. I think that though Lanagan tended toward overly detailed and graphic scenes in some cases (namely the rape, forced abortions, other sexual encounters) and added in a ton of superfluous verbiage, the bones of the story were good. There are some scenes in the book that are just a real delight to read so I am definitely glad I didn't give up after the first two chapters. Some of the characters are incredibly well thought out (and some not) and I think the interplay between characters and personalities was well done. The dialogue was a bit stilted and not entirely believable, but it wasn't completely horrible either. All in all, I think a few more editing sessions would have ironed things out nicely. Hopefully without giving away too much, I will say that I absolutely hated the ending of the book. Really? After all that? Ugh. It was so incredibly unfulfilling. As far as recommending this book to anyone - no, I absolutely would not. I'm not the squeamish type when it comes to reading tough topics and I'm absolutely not one to say a book should just disappear from the shelves, but the world would not be worse for it if Tender Morsels simply ceased to exist.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think that i'm a pretty sophisticated reader even though i'm only 11. Do not under estimate me though. I am pretty mature. This book was very compelling, gross, but all the while very interesting. I don't think i'll ever be the same. I think Liga was very brave in the beggining with her father raping her. My fave was Branza. She was a little like me.
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cat19lifes More than 1 year ago
This book is intriguing. At first I was put off by the violence endured by the Liga and the sadness of it. But the characters and the story were too interesting to put this book aside. The book is not an easy read. The conversations are written in a odd manner of speech, but are colorful. The first-person narratives are not unlike short stories, all centering on a common theme, and are very well done. It is a rather mature storyline. I don't think that it's for just any young adult, the themes are too dark, too complicated, sometimes disturbing. An older teen, or an avid reader, would appreciate it more. It could possibly be appropriate for survivors of abuse. But it is not for the "happy-ending" seeking reader. It has piqued my interest in the author and will explore her other works.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Liga has been mistreated all of her life. Her father is a monster; preying upon her at night in the midst of his drunken stupors. Liga's mother is dead, and cannot protect her daughter from the wickedness in the world.

Because of this, Liga is made a mother too early. In an act of desperation, Liga decides to kill her first child, believing that she will be better off in another place. A magic "moon-babby" takes pity on Liga and offers her an alternate universe to raise her daughters.

For many years, Urdda, Branza, and Liga are safe; no one can do them harm. Eventually, the boundaries of their world are infiltrated, and the three women must leave their paradise. Their new task; to survive in a world full of both cruelty and kindness, something that Liga thought she would never have to face again.

The basis for TENDER MORSELS is the story of Snow White and Rose Red. Two sisters must battle a dwarf and rescue a man from a witch's curse. Lanagan has included these pivotal plot details while still making the story her own.

There are many interesting twists that Lanagan has included in the novel. Her use of vocabulary and language is also very unique. The story may appear daunting to readers at first, but those who give it a chance will be greatly rewarded.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Single mom Liga Longfield has barely survived her father's sexual molestations and a gang rape although emotionally she is on shaky grounds in spite of living in an apparent heaven. Her daughters are polar opposites as Branza is calm and soothing while the bored Urdda is ready to take on the world they left behind.---------------- Meanwhile their isolated haven soon has a treasure hunting visitor, a 'little man' who comes and goes. Others also arrive to include a kind teenage boy who transforms into a bear and nasty bear-man. Fearing the intrusion, Liga can do little when her now teen Urdda wants to leave for the exciting life of the 'vivid people'.--------------- This is an intriguing dark character study that looks deep at the human psyche through a lens of ¿two border worlds¿ representing the extremes of humanity one side is abusive and brutal, and the other is caring yet boring. Liga has seen both sides having been molested and raped, and now is living in a gentle realm raising her children. She fears for her daughter who wants a taste of the wild side, having had that taste shoved down her throat with sexual abuse. Although the plot can turn overwhelmingly moody and introspectively slow at times, TENDER MORSELS is an engaging tale.------------- Harriet Klausner
callmefood More than 1 year ago
Wow, this book. Words cannot even describe how I feel about this book. I have to agree with everything littleperson and Hatter99 said, because honestly I could not have said it better myself. This book must have fallen straight from heaven; it is the most beautiful thing I have laid eyes on in a long time. My life was a nightmare of epic proportions before this book, but reading this book brought me out of my half life and allowed me to embrace life and live it to its fullest. I don't know what else I can say about this book, other than it is a thrilling, captivating story that anyone would be lucky to gaze upon.
SharingBooks More than 1 year ago
I bought this book based on reviews and awards it had received. I want my money back. I don't want to read about incest and abuse topped off with gang rape in an adult book, but I seriously do not want it in a teen/young adult book. The fact that the character is 13 years old at the beginning of the book when the nightly rape by her father and forced abortions occur puts this in the "teen" catagory, but it certainly isn't appropriate. My copy is going in the trash.