Rummanah Aasi

Welcome to my new feature called Forbidden Reads! Join me in celebrating your freedom to read. My goal for this soon-to be- regular monthly feature is to highlight challenged and/or banned books from each literary audience: children, YA, and adult. Not only will I be doing a review of the book, I will also include information as to where and why the book was challenged/banned. Today I'll be reviewing Robert Cormier's controversial YA suspense novel, Tenderness, which was published in 1997.

Description (from Goodreads): Eighteen-year-old Eric has just been released from juvenile detention for murdering his parents. Now he's looking for tenderness--tenderness he finds in killing girls. Fifteen-year-old Lori has run away from home again. Emotionally naive and sexually precocious, she is also looking for tenderness--tenderness that she finds in Eric. Will Lori and Eric be each other's salvation or destruction?

Review: Cormier is known for his gritty novels. His most widely known book, The Chocolate War, is a staple in YA literature and unapologetic explores the important issue of bullying which we are still struggling today. Tenderness is a mesmerizing albeit extremely disturbing plunge into the mind of a psychopathic teen killer. The book is compelling, short, and quick to the point. The story is simple as it follows two teens who are desperately searching for something called tenderness. 
  Eric Poole is handsome, clean cut, and with a vulnerability that plays well before the cameras. He is about to be released from the juvenile facility where he has spent three years for killing his mother and stepfather, who were believed to have abused him. Eric himself only knows that he murdered his parents without provocation; killed and sexual assaulted the girls involved in the serial killer case. Veteran cop Jake Proctor is almost positive that Eric is the serial killer, but he has no hard evidence to prove his suspicions. When Proctor's covert endeavors to obstruct Eric's release fail, the teen walks out of the facility, glorying in his cleverness and in great anticipation of renewing his obsessive search for "tenderness." 
  The really suspense begins with Eric carefully avoiding controversy until he can escape to another town while Proctor anxiously watches and waits for the young man to make a mistake. Neither villain nor cop suspects that Eric's undoing will come in the form of 15-year-old runaway Lori, who sees her own desire for affection mirrored in Eric's haunted eyes. 
  Lori is a complicated character. My reactions toward her varied from a selfish, vulnerable, obsessive child to a sexually precocious and an intuitive young woman. A victim of sexual harassment and abuse, Lori blatantly and aggressively uses her sexuality to get what she wants. Like Eric, she is obsessed with a search for genuine affection, and she's every bit as committed to pursuing it.
  While I was engrossed in the story, I didn't think this book was textured enough to satisfy today's YA readers. The chapters that switch from Eric and Lori's point of views aren't labeled though their voices are clearly distinct. There are, however, a number of intriguing psychological underpinnings that made me pause and think. There are strong hints of incest as we get a clear focus of Eric's fixation for his young victims: girls who have long, dark hair, medium height, just like his mother's.  Sex, though never explicit, plays a big role in both Lori's and Eric's behaviors. 
  Even though we don't get a whole lot of background to the story, particularly with Eric's parents, both main characters are fully developed. Though the characters are introduced separately, their perspectives smoothly transition once they finally meet. As readers, we know that Lori's time might be quickly shorten when she meets and spends time with Eric, but I never expected the book's final twist. The irony of Eric and Lori's ends is searing. The idea that humanity is a switch that can be turned off and on by will is the most disquieting aspect of the novel. It is also what ultimately makes the book so dark, seductive, and well.. forbidding. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Why it was challenged: According to Marhall University Library, the book was challenged in 2003 at the Fairfax (VA) school libraries by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools for "profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct and torture".

Words of Caution: There is some profanity in the book, but nothing that isn't spoken in a PG-13 movie. Lori mentions that her mother has an alcohol and drug problem, which highlights her isolation and the way she behaves. She is harassed by her mother's boyfriends who don't disguise their lecherous desire for her. There are scenes of sexual suggestiveness: In the beginning we see Lori's mother's current boyfriend brushes against her. Later a hitchhiker who Lori allows him to kiss and fondle her, but these incidents aren't graphically depicted but give enough of a set-up for readers to fill in the details. While difficult to read, I thought these scenes were necessary to show how sex Lori has become a big part of her life and she is provocative without really thinking about what she is doing which is the point that Cormier is trying to make. Her opinions of adults never go beyond their sexual desires because that is all that she has known. As mentioned in the review, Eric is a serial killer and there is obviously going to be violence associated with him. We are briefly told that he strangles his victims and there are clear suggestions that he sexually assaults his victims. In almost all popular adult books, the author spends time detailing the act of crime.  Cormier, however,  spends more time focusing on Eric's psychological state. Due to the book's mature themes, I would feel comfortable in recommending this book to older teens (i.e. Grades 10 and up).

If you like this book try: Right Behind You by Gail Giles, The Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin
9 Responses
  1. BookCupid Says:

    Forbidden. Hmm, why does that word sound so appealing to me, lol.

  2. Eeek...I read I Am the Cheese for 7th grade English. It freaked me out so much that just thinking about Robert Cormier still gives me the chills. He certainly leaves a mark, which I respect him for.

  3. I have to first say that I loved your post on Heidi's blog! also I enjoy these Forbidden posts as well!

    Oh and this one does sound interesting. I like the psychological underpinnings and as long as they have distinct voices, I don't mind a non listed POV switch. You don't need it there. I think books like this could really make readers out of non-readers.. but I can see recommending it to older teens.

  4. I can see why people might have a problem with the dark subject matter when it comes to younger teens but then again no matter how we try to avoid it, the fact of the matter is that we live in a world where there are sexual predators and serial killers and of course people use profanity. I am willing to be a kid in high school hears more profanity in the halls than they would find in reading this book! Thanks for sharing another great Forbidden Reads post and for helping me with the TMST post!

  5. Candace Says:

    Geez, somehow I don't think I ever even heard of this book before. It sounds interesting... I'm not sure if I'd like it or not, but I'm very curious. Especially with the ending and whether he kills her or not. I might watch for this at the library.

  6. I haven't heard of this one but it sounds dark and suspenseful ... and really interesting. It's too bad that Lori and Eric's voices sound similar though. Great review, Rummanah.

  7. Jenny Says:

    "The irony of Eric and Lori's ends is searing. The idea that humanity is a switch that can be turned off and on by will is the most disquieting aspect of the novel. It is also what ultimately makes the book so dark, seductive, and well forbidding."

    Wow Rummanah, that's a heck of a parting shot for this review! I'm deeply intrigued by this story now, and more than a little scared about this twist, but I'm also absurdly curious and I know my curiosity will ultimately win out. This just sounds like a book that really makes you think and stays with you long after it's over, and I love those types of books:)

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I absolutely love this feature, and I can't wait to see more of these! I'd never heard of this book before, though I've read The Chocolate War and love it. This sounds like a really emotional, affecting read. It seems like serial killers are so much more palatable in fiction now thanks to Dexter, Hannibal, and even in YA with I Hunt Killers. I find these stories full of psychological ticking time bombs fascinating and frightening. I'm really curious about what will happen to Lori now!

    You're right that sometimes those difficult scenes are necessary to give us a full understand of a character's state of mind, in Lori's case her over sexualization. I wish readers would look at all instances of profanity and sexual content in the context of the story before challenging them, but unfortunately that rarely happens. Wonderful review!

  9. danya Says:

    Yeah, there was definitely some pretty twisted psychology in this one. I also noticed the Freudian hints regarding Eric and his mother...Eric would have been in therapy for a LONG time if he'd had a psychoanalyst who'd picked up on that!

    The character I really couldn't make much sense of was Lori. I found her so frustrating...I wanted to be able to root for her, and yet, she kept doing things that made me go, "Don't you have ANY sense of self-preservation whatsoever???"

    Anyway, awesome idea for a feature, Rummanah!

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