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Tender Morsels

Intense, award-winning fairy tale for mature readers only.

What parents need to know

Educational value

This controversial book lends itself to some great discussions about mature books for teens. See our "Families Can Talk About" section for some ideas.  Some readers may be interested in pursuing other retold fairy tales -- while other may be inspired to learn more about how abuse victims cope with traumatic events.

Positive messages

The main characters ultimately learn to cope with the real world and the people in it, who can be both terrible and wonderful. 

Positive role models

The main character and her children may be inspirational to readers, for they do ultimately come back to the real world where, as it says in the book's description, "beauty and brutality lie side by side."


This book includes intense violence: A girl is repeatedly raped by her father and later gang raped by a group of teens. When those teens are grown, each is brutally sodomized in revenge. In other disturbingly violent scenes, a girl contemplates killing her newborn baby by bashing the baby's brains out against a tree and throwing her off a cliff, a man is mauled to death by a bear, and much more.


Lots of graphic material, beginning with the book's opening scene, which describes sex between a witch and a dwarf. The book also includes bestiality and a graphic depiction of bears mating while a girl watches. Also references to an erection, orgasm, masturbation, prostitution, etc.


Some, including "slut" and "feck."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some drinking and drunkenness, though certainly not glamorized in any way.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this award-winning book has garnered criticism for its intense material, including a protagonist who is repeatedly raped by her father and gang raped by other teens. There is also sodomy, bestiality, and graphic depictions of a miscarriage, a mauling, and more. Yet this book has also earned a great deal of praise for its masterful writing. Mature readers who make it through will have plenty to think about, including whether any topic is ever off limits for children, teen, or adult readers.

What's the story?

This book is a mature retelling of the Snow-White and Rose-Red \ fairy tale. After being repeatedly raped by her father and gang-raped by \ local teens, Liga escapes -- with her baby daughter and another on the \ way -- to a magical world where she's safe and everything is perfect. \ But soon others from the real world find their way into hers, and then \ her younger daughter finds her way back to the real world, eventually \ forcing Liga and her older daughter to come back and learn to deal with \ reality.

Is it any good?


It's no wonder this book has earned so much attention, including both awards and sharp criticism: It's both an amazing work of literature and incredibly intense. In an interview with suite101.com, the author says that the book would be too much for adults who are feeling fragile ("You need to be feeling resilient to take on the first part, particularly," she said).

Still, mature readers up for a challenge will find a complex but expertly constructed novel that's highly emotional and thought provoking. Parents and teachers guiding older teen readers could talk to them about a wide variety of topics, from the psychology of survival to book censorship and more. Our discussion guide can get you started, or look at Random House's Teacher Guide for ideas about delving more deeply into this often dark book. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about this book's controversial content. When asked about this book, author Phillip Pullman told The Observer, "I don't think there should be areas that children's books can't deal with." Do you agree?

  • Are books judged more harshly than other media? Should they be, or do they deserve more slack?

  • Families may also like to look at all the different editions of the book and talk about which take seems the most appropriate given the material. Is there one that marks it most clearly for an older teen audience?

Book details

Author:Margo Lanagan
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date:October 1, 2008
Number of pages:436

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Parent of a 11 and 13 year old Written bystarbox June 28, 2009

An adult book with more in common with Anais Nin than Grimm.

An okay book for adults that enjoy fantasy novels, but not for teens of any age. As a high school English teacher, I read a lot of YA and adult fiction and keep an extensive library in my classroom. I'm not squeamish about mature content in books, but this novel crossed the line and I will not put it in my classroom. It opens with a graphic, descriptive sex scene between a dwarf and the town trollop and within the first 26 pages features the repeated rape of a teen girl by her father, two graphic descriptions of the aftermath of forced abortions that her father performs on her against her will, and the gang rape of the same girl by a group of village boys. Later, the book describes a sexual relationship between a girl (the child born of the gang rape) and a bear (that is actually a teen boy that's been transformed into a lusty bear). Some of the descriptions are frankly as graphic as Anais Nin erotica. Yes, the source material s dark. Grimm is dark. We all know that - but Grimm does not feature long, explicit, heavily descriptive and detailed sexual scenes (both erotic and violent). It's not a bad book - it's just not a young adult book. This is easily as dark, difficult, and disturbing a take on a fairy tale as any of the adult feminist retellings of myth and fable that I have read.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Adult Written bymadonna February 6, 2009
Written byAnonymous March 12, 2015
Depending on who you are and what you like, Tender Morsels may end up being your favorite book or a just a book you wish you’d never picked up. It takes the fairy tale of “Snow White and Rose Red” and fleshes out the characters and the world it takes place in. A victim of repeated brutality, Liga, the teenage mother of two young daughters, is allowed to live in a tranquil, alternate reality created by a mysterious higher power. There, they live in prosperity, but their lives of peace are interrupted when an accident causes Liga’s world to rejoin with the real one. Tender Morsels is not really a YA novel in the traditional sense. A young adult novel focuses on teenage characters and their problems, which can cover adult topics, but will probably not discuss them in a graphic nature. The main problem is with the story’s extreme content. Liga is repeatedly raped and impregnated by her own father (who later makes her drink teas that induce miscarriages); after her father dies, she is gang raped by a group of boys from the nearby village. While Lanagan doesn’t describe the rapes in graphic detail (she prefers to either refer to the act in hindsight, or use the “fade to black” method), she does put a fair amount of detail in the miscarriage scenes. This happens within the first few chapters. But Lanagan’s novel is not shocking without reason. She uses Liga’s story as a method for exploring the fear of living in a brutal world, and the bravery one must show in order to survive it and live a fulfilling life. As one character says to Liga’s oldest daughter: “[Y]ou are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart. However sweet that other place was, it was not real. ... [Y]ou could not have stayed there forever and called yourself alive” (356-7). If you can make it past the first two chapters unfazed, then you should be able to finish the book (that is, if you can get past the novel’s stagnant middle section). Overall, an interesting read. I’m just not sure that it belongs in the Young Adult section. A 2009 Printz Honor Book. Recommended for Ages 16-Up.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much sex