Tender by Belinda McKeon

Tender by Belinda McKeon

Tender by Belinda McKeonTender by Belinda McKeon
on February 16th 2016
Source: Publisher
Pages: 416
Buy from IndieBound


Catherine meets James in the late 1990’s as she’s wrapping up her first year at Dublin’s Trinity College. From the moment James stumbles into her room, returning home from a year away in Berlin, the pair share an instant, irreplaceable bond. He is outgoing and playful, confident and funny in ways that perfectly balance her self-conscious reserve. Just a few years after Ireland’s decriminalization of same-sex sexual activity, Catherine is surprised when James reveals he is gay, but finds herself clinging to him in a new, increasingly concerning way.

Each section of Tender has a distinct style that aligns with Catherine’s quickly eroding mindset, as she is aware of her problematic choices but dominated by her increasing jealousy. What starts as long, diary-like stream of consciousness breaks down to one line snippets, as if unable to process beyond a single thought. At times I hoped the narrative would switch to reveal James’s perspective, but McKeon masterfully weaves his thoughts into Catherine’s without needing to shift the story.

“He was not trying to comfort her, Catherine realized. He was not trying to take something painful away. It was as if he was trying to tell her that something painful had never been hers to hold on to at all.”

McKeon’s characters are not easy to like, with their conversations steeped in irony and skills in dodging reality, but they are real in a way that will be achingly familiar for many readers. Tender is so much more than a campus novel, coming-of-age story, or tale of unrequited love, it’s an uncomfortable look at the point in life when we know better but can’t quite do better.


  • Isn’t this such an amazing book! I loved it. I think I would have liked to hear from James too, but I think her breakdown wouldn’t have the same impact if I had the opportunity to (potentially) dislike him. Rather than disliking Catherine’s interpretation of him.

    • That is such a great point about James! He was definitely the more likable of the two and feeling that way about him made it much more tense to see everything from Catherine’s POV.

  • I’m only 10% in, but am loving the writing style so far! But, I think maybe I should have waited to read your review until after I’d finished..

  • You’re killing me. I was already so excited to get to this and now I’m even more so. Can’t wait!

  • I only glanced at your review, to get the general gist. Because I just to the notification that the book is waiting at the library for me. Yay!

  • This looks AMAZING and it wasn’t on my radar at all–thank you!

  • I can’t wait to read this one – I’ve heard so many good things about it from the folks across the ocean. :)
    Good last line!

  • Gimmie! This one sounds so good and you’re review makes me want to check it out sooner rather than later.

  • Hahahaha, oh God, this sounds like it would be such a bad fit for me! I read a review of it somewhere else recently — New York Times maybe? — and didn’t realize it got all stream-of-consciousness. Excellent to know! I lose patience with stream-of-consciousness stuff almost immediately!

    • Not lacking in punctuation stream of consciousness, but the first section definitely feels like a rambly diary ;)

  • I just picked this up from the library – it ticks off so many of my reading interests, so I’m glad to hear your thoughts, which make me confirm that it’s probably a “me” kind of book!

    • Yes! It was the same for me – I’m a sucker for campus novels and coming-of-age stories, so it was refreshing to see on that was different.

  • Whoooaaaaa this sounds really really good. Not something I’d pick up on my own bc I didn’t notice a mention of aliens… but wow this sounds great. After all the twitter gushing, I think I need it.

  • Amanda

    I can’t stop thinking about the ending. The more I think back on it the more powerful the book feels overall.

  • When I first read the blurb, it really didn’t grab me. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it at the library and give it a taste test, because I like the lines you featured and I know you adored it!

    • The blurb didn’t grab me that much, either, but I REALLY trust Lee Boudreaux, so I went with it. Totally paid off!

  • Beautifully done! I didn’t want to read this until I had my own review in my head because I love your words and did not want to unconsciously borrow them, but this is exactly what I felt. That you can distill it into its purest essence while I ramble is a marvel, but I love that you do.

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  • Well, after all of these glowing reviews, I’m going to have to read this one, Shannon! I’m excited!!

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