Tender by Belinda McKeon: Anatomy of a Desperate Spiral

Tender, Belinda McKeonFiction
Released February 16, 2016
416 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Lee Boudreaux Books)


Tender made me feel all the emotions…and pulled me out of one of the more epic reading slumps I’ve had in awhile.

Plot Summary

Conservative Catherine and vivacious James become virtually inseparable friends during Catherine’s first year of college in Dublin, but emotions run high as they navigate the boundaries of their relationship.

Why I Read It

Shannon at River City Reading’s tip to pay attention to the new Hachette imprint, Lee Boudreaux Books, led me to this novel and her subsequent review sealed the deal.

Major Themes

Friendship, relationships, sexuality

What I Liked Loved

  • Tender is one of those books that just has all the intangibles. Rather than loving it for concrete reasons (i.e. the plot, the characters, etc), I love it because of the way it made me feel. These are the types of books I get most excited about because they’re hard to pre-select accurately, yet they are generally the ones that end up on my Best Books of the Year lists.
  • Did this book make me feel tender? At times, but mostly not. Rather, it made me feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and empathetic. I wanted to cringe and I wanted to scream “do not do what I think you’re going to do under any circumstances!” over and over again, while I also remembered how hard it could be to hold yourself back when emotions overwhelmed you in your youth.
  • Tender works because McKeon created heart-pounding intensity out of feelings and thoughts without much action. Early on, you experience Catherine and James’ relationship developing, but there is a sense of intrigue hovering over them. I sensed that there was a train-wreck coming, but really had no idea what form this disaster would take.
  • As the story goes on, it becomes more and more cringe-worthy. As a reader, you are forced to sit back and helplessly watch this spiral of complete self-destruction. And, through her writing, McKeon makes you truly feel the frantic, desperate hysteria and a sense of the inevitable.

And Catherine hated herself, in that moment. For wanting to ask what she wanted to ask. For needing to. She tried to stop herself; she tried to bite it back, beat it back, this swelling in her: this awful, unforgivable surging of hope. But she could not. She could not harangue herself out of hoping. And so she looked at him. Her heart a frantic drum. “And?” she said, her voice tripping, slipping on the word. “And? What did you say?”

What I Didn’t Like

  • The story dragged ever so slightly through the middle.

A Defining Quote

She wanted the best of his attention, she wanted the highest pitch of his energy; she wanted to be the reason he was fascinated, delighted, amused. And here were all the others, stealing this ground from her, and she resented them for it, and she resented James, for being taken in.

Good for People Who Like…

Gorgeous writing, character-driven novels, coming of age, teenage (or early college) angst

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  1. I have a couple books from that imprint. I need to see if this is one of them.

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Lucky you!! I’m trying to get a couple more and never seem to get approved on NetGalley or Edelweiss – my requests just sit and sit with no response! Which ones are you looking forward to? I’d also like to try As Close to Us As Breathing!

      Posted 2.25.16 Reply
      • Amanda wrote:

        Butting in! I’m now also dying to read Happy Family from them! Fingers crossed for approval for both of us Sarah.

        Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  2. Great review Sarah! I’m going to add this to my ‘To Read’ list. I’m really curious about the ‘train-wreck’.

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Oh good – I hope you get to it!

      Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  3. “Tender works because McKeon created heart-pounding intensity out of feelings and thoughts without much action.” … GIVE IT TO ME NOW

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Yep – agreed! I wish there was a list of this type of book somewhere…they’re my favorites and you can never tell by the premise whether it will hit the spot in this area. Maybe I’ll make that list – ha! But, it would be pretty short at this point! Did You Ever Have A Family would be another one in this category for me…

      Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  4. Carmen wrote:

    Great review, Sarah! It seems I should keep this one in mind if its price drops.

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  5. Your emotional response to this book reminds me of my reading of The Art of Fielding a few years ago (one that I still think about; I loved it!); I am really looking forward to this one, Sarah!!

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Oh my gosh – I LOVED that one! And is he ever going to write a second book?!

      Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  6. Judy wrote:

    Yes, I read for that kind of thing too!

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  7. Andi wrote:

    Ooooh, slump busters are in short supply, so I’m keeping this one on my radar for just such an occasion. It looks like Lee Boudreaux is going to have some great stuff.

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  8. Amanda wrote:

    YES – Cringe worthy moments for sure in this book! This was such an intense book. I’m still not over the ending. I loved it.

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  9. Michelle wrote:

    Yep. Sold. The slump buster aspect really caught my attention. I will have to pay attention to this new imprint!

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  10. I’m putting a hold on this one at the library. Both you and Shannon have me wanting to read this one sooner rather than later, but that darn queue has me in its clutches again.

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  11. Rhonda wrote:

    It’s right next to me in my ever growing tbr pile moving it to the top.Drives me crazy when I have a reading slump.

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  12. I keep seeing so much love for this title… I’m just not sure it’s a Katie book. Is it a Fates and Furies sort of read?

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  13. Catherine wrote:

    I am so glad you loved this book. I hoped you might, but wasn’t sure. And I loved this review! You get right to the heart of the matter.

    Posted 2.25.16 Reply
  14. Athira wrote:

    I wasn’t eager to read this one but now I am. The plot synopsis didn’t quite intrigue me but your review does so I’ll keep an eye out for this.

    Posted 2.27.16 Reply
  15. Diane wrote:

    Tender – is a new to me title. Now I’m sorry I never came across it pre-release. Thanks for sharing the review.

    Posted 2.28.16 Reply
  16. Naomi wrote:

    It sounds like one of those books that’s so good it’s painful. Nice review!

    Posted 3.1.16 Reply
  17. Fantastic review….thanks.

    I hope you are enjoying your reading week.

    Stopping by from Carole’s Books You Loved March Edition. I am in the list as #12, #14, and #44.

    Happy Reading!!

    Silver’s Reviews
    My Blog

    Posted 3.2.16 Reply

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