What the current and not-so-current crop of books and movies tells us is that the world is unpredictable, unreliable, and downright scary. Girls cannot travel in Europe without fear of being abducted as sex slaves. They cannot live down the road from a house where parents were murdered. Boys are born sociopaths and trick their silly, gullible fathers into buying them bows and arrows. That's the fiction. The truth is worse: multiple firing guns and anesthesia and abuse.
Eric Poole, the 15-year-old killer of his parents, also claims abuse as his excuse--which no one believes. However, one little flashback near novel's end tells the reader that Eric, indeed, was abused and in the worst way. "Tenderness" by Richard Cormier, always a controversial and very edgy writer, shows the result of this particular abuse in this particular case.
Teen sociopaths? Teen killers? We don't even blink an eye at such a story because we know it is true. What is so remarkable about this particular story (even though fiction) is that Cormier is so subtle with his clue. I missed it at first reading. Several pages later, I halted. Wait a minute, I thought, and flipped back to that paragraph. Sure enough, there was the truth, plain and simple or complicated in this case, and suddenly, things made sense.
That's what is great about fiction: we get truths. In this case, truth explains why Eric is so emotionally warped and psychologically damaged. Why did Cormier write such chilling, provocative stories if not to cause discussion and, in a perfect world, initiate change.
The other major character is Lori Cranston, who is abused through neglect, and therefore emotionally needy. She forms obsessions for certain people. With Eric her obsession is formed after a brief meeting (just after he kills one of his female victims during a "tender" moment). Lori seeks tenderness, too, to counteract the pain and void of neglect. Eric defends her when a gang threatens her, thus creating a need for tenderness from this boy.
He kills his parents (the book cover tells the reader that) and spends three years in juvie detention, then is let go when he turns eighteen. The detective who arrested Eric watches him closely, knowing full well that Eric will kill again. Through odd circumstances the Eric and Lori run away together. The information she reveals about that long ago meeting makes Eric decide that he must kill her, yet he forms an surprising attachment to her. Threads of the story are woven together for an expected and totally unexpected ending.
"Tenderness" is a book to (oddly enough) savor for its fine writing and to be repelled by the horror. Like scotch or raw oysters, Cormier's talent is an acquired taste. His books definitely will never bore and are great to put into hands of reluctant teens who can handle mature themes.
Cormier writes for Grade 6 (mature readers) and above. Other Cormier books, which I highly recommend, are "The Chocolate War" (his most famous), "We All Fall Down," and "I Am the Cheese."