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Written by Margo LanaganAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Margo Lanagan

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On Sale: October 14, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-89149-6
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE & AWARDS PRAISE & AWARDS
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fantasy (135) fiction (66) ya (37) young adult (35) rape (33)
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

Excerpt

Liga’s father fiddled with the fire, fiddled and fiddled. Then he stood up, very suddenly.

“I will fetch more wood.”

What’s he angry about? Liga wondered. Or worried, or something. He is being very odd.

Snow-light rushed in, chilling the house. Then he clamped the door closed and it was cozy again, cozy and empty of him. Liga took a deep private breath then blew it out, slowly. Just these few moments would be her own.

But her next breath caught rough in her throat. She opened her eyes. Gray smoke was cauliflowering out of the fireplace, fogging the air. The smell! What unnamable rubbish had fallen in the fire?

She coughed so hard she must put aside the rush mat she was binding the edge of and give her whole body over to the coughing. Then pain caught her, low, and folded her just like a rush-stalk, it felt, in a line across her belly, crushing her innards. She could hardly get breath to cough. Sparks that were not from the fire jiggled and swam in her eyes—she could not see the fire for the smoke. She could not believe what she was feeling.

The pain eased just as abruptly. It let her get up. It gave her a moment to stagger to the door and open it, her insides dangerous, liquid, hot with surprise and readying to spasm again.

Her father was halfway back from the woodpile, his arms full. He bared his teeth at her, no less. “What you doing out?” White puffs came with the words. “Get back inside. Who said you could come out?”

“I cannot breathe in there.” The cold air dived down her throat and she coughed again.

“Then go in and don’t breathe! Shut the door—you’re letting the smoke out. You’re letting the heat.” He dropped the wood in the snow.

“Has the chimney fallen in? Or what is it?” She wanted to step farther out and look.

But he sprang over the logs and ran at her. She was too surprised to fight him, and her insides were too delicate. The icicled edge of the thatch swept down across the heavy sky, and she was on the floor, the door slammed closed above her. It was dark after the snow-glare, the air thick with the billowing smoke. Outside, he shouted—she could not hear the words—and hurled his logs one by one at the door.

She pressed her nose and mouth into the crook of her elbow, but she had already gulped smoke. It sank through to her deepest insides, and there it clasped its thin black hands, all knuckles and nerves, and wrung them, and wrung them.

Time stretched and shrank. She seemed to stretch and shrink. The pain pressed her flat, the crashing of the wood. Da muttered out there, muttered forever; his muttering had begun before her thirteen years had, and she would never hear the end of it; she must simply be here while it rose from blackness and sank again like a great fish into a lake, like a great water snake. Then Liga’s belly tightened again, and all was gone except the red fireworks inside her. The smoke boiled against her eyes and fought in her throat.

The pains resolved themselves into a movement, of innards wanting to force out. When she next could, she crawled to the door and threw her fists, her shoulder, against it. Was he out there anymore? Had he run off and left her imprisoned? “Let me out or I will shit on the floor of your house!”

There was some activity out there, scraping of logs, thuds of them farther from the door. White light sliced into the smoke. Out Liga blazed, in a dirty smoke-cloud, clambering over the tumbled wood, pushing past him, pushing past his eager face.

But it was too late for the cold, clean air to save her; her insides had already come loose. She could not run or she would shake them out. Already they were drooling down her legs. She must clamp her thighs together to hold them in, and yet walk, and yet hurry, to the part of the forest edge they used for their excrements.

She did not achieve it. She fell to her knees in the snow. Inside her skirt, so much of her boiling self fell away that she felt quite undone below the waist, quite shapeless. No, look: sturdy hips. Look: a leg on either side. A blue-gray foot there, the other there. Gingerly, Liga sat back in a crouch to lift her numbing knees off the snow. The black trees towered in front of her, and the snow dazzled all around. She heaved and brought up nothing but spittle, but more of her was pushed out below by the heaving.

She crouched, panting. From her own noises she knew she had become some kind of animal; she had fallen as low as she could from the life she had had before Mam died. Everything had slid from there, out of prosperity, out of town, out of safety, when Mam went, and this was where of course it ended, with Liga an animal in the snow, tearing herself to pieces with the wrongness of everything.

With one last heave, her remaining insides dropped out of her. She knelt over their warmth, folded herself down, and waited to die.

But she did not die there. The snow pained against her forehead and her knees, and the fallen mass of her innards began to lose its heat in the tent of her skirt.

She tried to lift herself off it. At first her knees would not unbend, so she tipped herself forward onto her front . . . paws, they felt like, her front claws. And hoisted her bottom up from there.

“Oh, my Gracious Lady.” Her voice sounded drunken and flat. Between pink footprints, her innards lay glossy and dark red. Her feet were purple, blotched yellow, weak and wet with melting pink snow.

She should go back to the house—that was all she knew. And so she labored towards it, top-heavy, slick-thighed, numb-footed, and hollow, glancing behind as if afraid the thing would follow her, along its own pink trail.

Da snatched the door open as soon as she touched it. He stood there, hands on hips. “What’s a-matter with you?” The air around him was clear and warm; in the crook of his arm, the fire flowed brightly up around the new logs. Would he even let her in?


From the Hardcover edition.
Margo Lanagan

About Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan - Tender Morsels
MARGO LANAGAN is an internationally acclaimed writer of novels and short stories. She is a two-time Printz Honor winner and a three-time World Fantasy Award winner. Ms. Lanagan lives in Sydney, Australia, and can be found online at amongamidwhile.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @margolanagan.
Praise | Awards

Praise

Starred Review, Booklist, August 1, 2008:
“A marvel to read and will only further solidify Lanagan’s place at the very razor’ s edge of YA speculative fiction.”

Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2008:
"Lanagan's poetic style and her masterful employment of mythic imagery give this story of transformation and healing extraordinary depth and beauty."

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, September 8, 2008:
"Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist."

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2008:
"By turns horrifying and ribald, witty and wise, this tour de force of a novel almost demands multiple readings to fully appreciate each of its layers."

Starred Review, School Library Journal, November 2008:
"Beautifully written and surprising, this is a novel not to be missed."


From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

HONOR 2009 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
WINNER 2008 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
WINNER 2008 Booklist Children's Editors' Choice
WINNER 2008 Horn Book Fanfare
WINNER 2008 Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Books
WINNER 2008 Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book
WINNER 2008 Amazon Best of the Year
NOMINEE 2008 Shirley Jackson Award-Novel category
WINNER ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide



ABOUT THIS BOOK

“It is quite like here, only simpler, with all the cruel people taken out, all the rudeness and suddenness, and much of the noise and bustle.”—Urdda Longfield

Liga Longfield knows little about life except for what she has been forced to endure: the death of her mother, abuse at the hands of her father, neglect, and loneliness. After her father is killed in a mysterious accident, Liga experiences the freedom that she never had living like a prisoner in her family cottage, and gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. But her peace is shattered when a gang of village toughs break through her door and violently rape and beat her, driving Liga to the brink of despair. Having decided to end both her daughter’s and her own life, Liga is magically saved by a benevolent force that transports her to a place of her heart’s desire: a world in which Liga is safe from harm and judgment. While there, she gives birth to a second daughter, and the family of three live out their days in guarded happiness. As the sisters grow older, the real world from which they come begins to push itself into Liga’s heaven on earth, in ways both benign and sinister, forcing Liga to face her past. Living in the real world, mother and daughters must learn to accept life for all that it is if they are to become their true selves.

Grades 9 Up

Thematic Connections:
Hope • Despair • Illusion • Identity • Courage


ABOUT THIS AUTHOR

Margo Lanagan is a highly acclaimed writer of novels, short stories, and poetry. Her original story collections are White Time (2000), Black Juice (2004), and Red Spikes (2007). Black Juice won a Michael L. Printz Honor Award as well as the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.

TEACHING IDEAS

PRE-READING ACTIVITY
In this story, the main character is magically transported to a world of comfort and safety after having endured a life in the real world marked by loss, abuse, rape, and loneliness. Her new world is the manifestation of her heart’s desire; a world where she can live without fear of harm coming to her, or her children, in any way. Discuss with students the meaning of the phrase heart’s desire. Ask students to write a short essay describing what the phrase means to them.

Tender Morsels takes place in two worlds: one in a place of comfort and safety; the other in reality. Challenge students to think of titles that they’ve read that bridge two worlds, such as Alice in Wonderland, or The Wizard of Oz. Discuss how the main characters in these stories navigate through the fantasy worlds they find themselves in, and what lessons they discover by being removed from their real lives.

DISCUSSION AND WRITING

QUESTIONS FOR GROUP DISCUSSION
Begin a discussion regarding the major themes in the story, such as motherhood, renewal, denial, safety, desire, and risk. Challenge students to describe passages from the book which present these themes. Discuss how particular characters are associated with the themes.

Reread pages 47—49. Why does Liga decide to kill her baby and herself? Discuss what Liga thought as she decided upon suicide: “It seemed like the answer to her; it seemed fated, a kindness.” What type of life do you think Liga would have experienced had the moon baby not protected her and the not-yet-named Branza?

Discuss the significance of Bear Day and what it means to the villagers. How does the true character of each man (Davit Ramstrong, Teasel Wurledge, Bullock Oxman) emerge while in bear form? When Davit first stumbles through the portal while in his bear suit, he sees his small village, everything he knows, from an entirely new perspective. At this moment he has a realization: “The pattern is bigger than my whole body, certainly bigger than the manhood of me; ’tis seasonal and circular; births and deaths happen, and lives, so many lives, overlap each other, full of lessons and habits and accidents.” (p.120) Discuss Davit’s realization and how it relates to the major themes of the book: life, death, birth, renewal.

The moon baby presents Liga with two gems and instructs her to plant them at opposite ends of her cottage. What do you think these gems symbolize? When Liga wakens the day after the rape, she enters her cottage to find it transformed and says, “I do not deserve this!” (p. 55) After all that Liga had endured, why do you think she feels undeserving of a clean, comfortable place to live and raise her baby? Why does Liga feel that what had been given to her was by “a grain of purest luck”? (p. 55)

Discuss the differences between Branza and Urdda. Read the passage on pages 69—71. How does this passage illustrate the basic differences between the sisters and foreshadow future events?

Discuss the characters of Collaby Dought and Muddy Annie Bywell. What do their names signify? What do you think their characters represent? Muddy Annie appears in the opening of the book in a hay stack, again in the opening chapters as a hedge-witch who sells potions to induce miscarriage, as Dought’s business partner, and finally, as a mentor to Urdda. Discuss Muddy Annie’s evolution throughout the story. Challenge students to describe how their impressions of her changed while reading the story? Do students consider her a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

When the second Bear arrives at the cottage, Liga experiences uneasiness at his presence: “A piece of other-world knowledge rose from Liga’s bones: they were too old for such games, her girls now. . . . Improper it was. She remembered women scolding, and talking about girls in scolding voices. . . . She could feel the inclination for it.” (p. 174) What does the author mean by “other-world knowledge”? How has the life that Liga has built for her girls left them vulnerable and unprepared for life in the real world?

In chapter seven, a lonely Liga tries to start a relationship with a village woodworker, only to realize that this man, the people of the village, and everything in it is a construction of her heart’s desire: “None of it is real, she thought . . . not these houses, that wife hurrying, that carter leading his soaking horse. She must run away from him hard . . . and find as soon as possible her little daughters, the only true people in this world besides herself.” (p. 156) After this realization, Liga is frightened, but chooses to go on in this place as before. Why does Liga toil “every day to make it so, to keep it, to deserve it”? (p. 156) Why was she willing to “pretend it was all true”? (p.157) Why after all the time she has spent in her heaven does she still feel undeserving of it?

Why is Branza plagued by nightmares? Why are the girls ultimately foreigners in Liga’s wished-for world, and why must they return to the real world in order to have meaning in their lives? Why is it dangerous to live one’s life for another’s desires? In trying so desperately to keep her daughters safe, how did Liga fail them?

Discuss the aspect of denial in the story. Which characters live in denial? How does this state help and hurt them? How did living in denial both benefit and damage Liga and her daughters? What is Liga’s greatest fear? How is she eventually healed, and what heals her?

Discuss Bullock’s comment on page 278: “Home is home, no?–whatever layabouts you live with, whatever tempers and timidities.” Do you agree or disagree with his description of “home”?

Discuss the character Miss Dance. What does she represent in the story? Do you think her surname, Dance, has any special significance? From where does Miss Dance draw her powers? Why is Urdda so fascinated with her?

Reread the passage on pages 280—285. Discuss how Liga experiences her re-entry into the real world, her remembrances, and how this event was necessary for Liga to experience.

Lanagan incorporates elements from the Brothers Grimm tale “Snow White and Red Rose” in her story. In what ways does Tender Morsels feel like a fairy tale?

Discuss the revenge scene on pages 396—401, which would illustrate the old saying, “An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.” Do you think this punishment was just? Why or why not? Why do you think the book is titled Tender Morsels?

VOCABULARY

The vocabulary in the novel isn’t difficult, but students should try to define unfamiliar words using clues from the context of the story. Such words may include: harangued (p. 42), remonstrating (p. 57), disheveled (p. 107), prostrated (p. 127), disemboweling (162), poignant (p. 184), predicament (p. 264), impeding (p. 280), alodorous (p. 304), imperil (p. 313), wizened (p. 315), facsimiles (p. 344), delineate (p. 370).

BEYOND THE BOOK

INTERNET RESOURCES
Locus Magazine Online Interview: Margo Lanagan
www.locusmag.com/2005/Issues/06Lanagan.html

OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST

Runemarks
Joanne Harris
Grades 5 up
Secrets • Revenge • Trust • Destiny • Acceptance
Alfred A. Knopf HC: 978-0-375-84444-7
GLB: 978-0-375-94444-4

The Navigator
Eoin McNamee
Grades 4–7
Friendship • Courage • Fear
Self-Discovery • Forgiveness
Wendy Lamb Books HC: 978-0-375-83910-8
GLB: 978-0-375-83910-8
Yearling PB: 978-0-385-73554-4

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