Published by Lee Boudreaux Books on February 16, 2016
Read synopsis on Goodreads
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I’ve read several reviews of Tender by Belinda McKeon over the past month or so and nearly all of them have two things in common: they are overwhelmingly positive and include one very specific spoiler that’s not in the synopsis. What’s more, most of these reviews gave no warning that there was a spoiler coming. It’s hard to review the book without revealing this particular detail, so I get it, but if this is the very first review of Tender that you will read or if you are lucky enough to have no idea what I’m talking about, then consider this your warning and stop reading right now.
This is your last chance.
Okay, here we go.
Tender is the story of James and Catherine, who become fast friends in college and develop an intense friendship. James is a people person – charismatic, funny, and charming. Catherine, on the other hand, is sheltered and socially awkward. So when James comes out to her, it comes as no surprise that she is ill-equipped to handle it. This is partly because homosexuality had only recently been decriminalized in Ireland, but also because of her religious upbringing. What happens next is a series of poor decisions that were hard to read and from which I never recovered.
Before I dive into the review, let me explain. I was the relatively sheltered girl who had, at 18, her best friend come out to her. He, too, was (and is) charismatic, funny, and charming. I remember the day he told me and it was as if the world shifted beneath my feet- so many things started to make sense, such as why he didn’t date or talk about girls. But I also remember having questions – Was he okay? Was he dating? How long had he known? Who else knew? Had I ever said anything offensive without realizing it? Did he need someone to talk to? What I did not do was make his coming out was about me or even fathom doing any of the things Catherine did, which is why I was not able to connect with this book.Sometimes a book just isn't for you. Tender was that book for me. Click To Tweet
I didn’t like Catherine from the beginning. It’s not because she’s selfish and socially awkward – most 18-year olds are – but because her social awkwardness was rooted in her selfishness. But instead of striving for self-awareness, she revels in her own childishness and appears to make no effort to grow, preferring the faux-sheltered life that allows her to justify her horrendous actions. There were times during this book when I actually yelled “Noooo!” because there was no part of me that could relate to her choices, never mind justify them. I tried to be sympathetic and qualify her actions by reminding myself she was sheltered, that she came from a religious family, and that she was young – but I couldn’t. Nothing I came up with could justify her actions and make me feel anything but contempt for her.
It’s safe to say that we have all been terrible friends to someone in our lives. I know what it’s like to be socially awkward, to make poor decisions, and to hurt someone I care about. If Tender was about Catherine’s inability to cope with any other kind of revelation within a friendship, I might have connected with it. But because the bare bones of this book remind me of my own friend, I found myself fluctuating between horrified and angry. The pages upon pages of Catherine’s stream of consciousness didn’t help, but knowing where she was coming from only made me hate her more.
That said, I can see why people love this book, especially if they were never in the position of being trusted with such an immense disclosure. So if you did not have your best friend come out to you at 18, I highly recommend you read this review by Sarah at Sarah’s Bookshelves because she loved Tender and you might, too.