Monday, February 15, 2016

Review: Tender by Belinda McKeon

Title: Tender 
Author: Belinda McKeon 
Publisher: Hachette Books 
Source: Publisher 
Expected Publication: February 16th, 2016 
Pre-order: Amazon  |  B&N 


A searing novel about longing, intimacy and obsession from the award-winning author of Solace.

When they meet in Dublin in the late nineties, Catherine and James become close as two friends can be. She is a sheltered college student, he an adventurous, charismatic young artist. In a city brimming with possibilities, he spurs her to take life on with gusto. But as Catherine opens herself to new experiences, James's life becomes a prison; as changed as the new Ireland may be, it is still not a place in which he feels able to truly be himself. Catherine, grateful to James and worried for him, desperately wants to help -- but as time moves on, and as life begins to take the friends in different directions, she discovers that there is a perilously fine line between helping someone and hurting them further. When crisis hits, Catherine finds herself at the mercy of feelings she cannot control, leading her to jeopardize all she holds dear.

By turns exhilarating and devastating, Tender is a dazzling exploration of human relationships, of the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we are taught to tell. It is the story of first love and lost innocence, of discovery and betrayal. A tense high-wire act with keen psychological insights, this daring novel confirms McKeon as a major voice in contemporary fiction, belonging alongside the masterful Edna O'Brien and Anne Enright. 


Tender is the story of best friends Catherine and James as they tackle university, relationships, and life in 90’s Dublin.  Catherine struggles with her insurmountable feelings for James, becoming obsessive and neurotic – while James, dealing with a significant and life changing secret, withdraws into himself, fearful to share his truth with anyone else.

The first part of the book moved slowly for me, and I struggled to relate to Catherine, whose anxiety and obsession drove me bonkers.  James was definitely fascinating, and I could certainly understand the draw that led to Catherine’s fixation.  The second part of the book, however, was quite wonderful, and I found myself easily invested in the pages that followed.  Exploring Dublin in this era was captivating, and watching the sometimes beautiful, oft times tragic relationship between Catherine and James easily enthralling.

Watching a character make so many unfortunate decisions and exercise such poor judgement was difficult.  I didn’t want to look… but I couldn’t force myself to turn away.  Even though I knew it was going to be painful and it absolutely gutted me what happened to both of these characters – believe it or not, Catherine especially.  While some readers may struggle to feel compassion for Catherine, I couldn’t help but chalk up her choices to the carelessness and sometimes foolishness of youth.  That awkward and annoying time when poor judgement was often times the only judgement.  Catherine’s thought process and actions were at times cringe-worthy, but I was reminded of the quote: “Without mistakes, there are no lessons.”

The last few chapters were my favorite, and I appreciated such a realistic ending that gave perhaps not blissful resolution but definite closure.  Tender is well-written, compelling, and a bit emotionally draining.  I’m glad I stuck with this book; and while I know this would not be many of my YA/NA reader friends’ cup of tea, I believe fans of cultural/literary fiction would enjoy this Irish coming-of-age tale.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review.

© at A Belle's Tales



  1. Wifey is this a me book? IDK based on your review. On one hand... Dublin YAY... but idk if I would have the patience for Catherine. I'll just let you decide for me lol. Great review!

    1. And that was my dilemma! I struggled with parts, but I loved other parts. Catherine might make you too crazy pants, but you'd adore James. ;)

  2. I love the setting and I am glad the last few chapters made this good for you!

  3. Great review! It sounds a bit away from what I normally read, but I'm definitely intrigued. Love the Irish setting!

    1. It was so far out of my reading comfort zone, but I'm really glad I stuck with it. The setting was amazing!

  4. Hmm... I like the setting and the era, but I think I would struggle with the poor decisions as well. Glad it ended well for you at least.

    1. Yes, it's always difficult when I can't relate to a character, and that was my biggest problem with Catherine. But I'm happy there were some lovely moments as well.

  5. Though you didn't really enjoy the first half of the book, I'm glad that it did pick up and you ended up liking it the deeper you got into it! Though I do love the sound of the setting, I'm very unsure about this Catherine character... :)

    Lovely review! *HUGGLES*


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