Book Review: Tenderness by Robert Cormier

Tenderness by Robert Cormier

Title: Tenderness

Author: Robert Cormier

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 240

Rating: D+

Recommended?: No


TW: Sexual abuse, Animal cruelty, Serial killing, sociopathy, incest (implied,) Domestic abuse

Sheesh. I’ve read three other books by Robert Cormier, and this is by far the worst. I usually like his stuff but aside for the fact that this should never have been published for young adults (like Living Dead Girl,) it was just… bad. It was almost laughably bad at times, and it just gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on.

The main character is a charming young sociopath named Eric, who’s just gotten out of a juvenile detention facility he was incarcerated in for killing his mom and his stepdad. Eric faked being physically abused to get the media on his side, but what people don’t know is that he also killed three young girls around the time he was locked up. He enjoys the feeling of ‘tenderness’ he gets from tampering with their bodies after death, and the washed-up old detective who helped put Eric away knows he’s a ticking time bomb and is determined to keep him from killing again.

Lori is a fifteen-year-old girl living in an abusive household. She runs away from home and when she sees Eric, she remembers him from a previous encounter and becomes obsessed with him. Luckily for Lori, she is not Eric’s ‘type’- we are reminded 10+ times that Lori is pale and blonde and Eric likes to kill ‘dusky-skinned brunettes.’ Lori is the worst kind of serial killer Stan- even as she becomes abundantly aware of how violent and dangerous Eric is, she can’t help falling for him.

She reminded me of Becky in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer but Becky was actually someone you could feel for. Lori is just an awful character who’s too stupid to live. She has two characteristics- childishly na├»ve and hypersexual and the author creepily milks this for all it’s worth. We’re supposed to believe Eric develops actual feelings for Lori, but it makes absolutely no sense. Why would someone who killed multiple innocent people without an iota of remorse bond with someone because she’s girlish and vulnerable?

Not only does Eric not deserve an redemption arc, it strains credulity to the extreme knowing what we know about him from the very beginning. The guy likes to crush kittens, for God’s sake. There isn’t a single character to root for in this book and they’re all painfully one-dimensional. It’s a lurid story filled with shock value that manages to be almost completely devoid of nuance or intelligence. If you’re interested in Robert Cormier and his famously dark and controversial YA fiction, I recommend Tunes for Bears to Dance To or I Am the Cheese instead.

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