"You are pure-hearted, Branza, and lovely, and you have never done a moment's wrong. But you are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart."
Tender Morsels is one of those books that makes you breathe, "Wow. . ." every now and then while you flip a page.
Liga is a young woman who finds herself in horrible situations which lead to her getting pregnant. The book opens with a miscarriage, which she doesn't identify as such because her father keeps her in sight and uneducated. (Yes, you probably just figured out horrible situation #1.) After the second horrible incident, she is desperate to escape the totally cruel world she has become subject to the whims of, and her escape turns out to be another world. She enters her own dreamscape, her heart's desire, which is as simple as a safe place to raise her daughters and to feel unthreatened by anyone or anything.
Liga and her daughters Branza and Urdda would have spent their whole lives in that haven, untouched by the true world, if a mud-wife (a witch) in Liga's hometown hadn't decided to fiddle with things and try to send a cruel little man to his own dream-space. Her meddling interferes with the boundaries (and internal clocks) of the two places and strange Bears find themselves in Liga's world, as well as the little man, both possibly posing threats to Liga's family. Eventually, Liga finds herself compelled to return to the cruel world of her youth with her girls.
Lanagan employs a folksy dialect for her characters--some of them say "babby" for "baby" and "leddy" for "lady," for example--which manages to add to the richness of both the characters and setting instead of being distracting to the reader. (In fact, it took me a while to catch on to what "leddy" meant--I was reading it as something like "goody" or "goodwife" for the first half of the book. It worked.)
Lanagan also plays, mostly successfully, with point of view. When the story is following any of the males, they are allowed to tell their own story in first person point of view, which is a little confusing at first when the reader realizes that the "I" isn't necessarily the same person the last "I" was, but once that becomes obvious, the narrators are easy enough to keep track of. When the story is following Liga, Branza or Urdda, however, the narrator is omniscient, which mostly serves to provide a little bit of distance between Liga and the reader; the narrator gets to choose how detailed Liga's story is. (Readers will be just fine with certain parts of Liga's story being glossed over or summarily mentioned after the fact.)
Highly recommended for anyone (grade 8 & older) who has ever appreciated the darker side of fairy tales. If you liked Deerskin by Robin McKinley, you'll want to read this.
I purchased Tender Morsels at Powells in Portland, Oregon. It's going to become part of my mostly-permanent collection.