by Robert Cormier

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EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD ERIC HAS just been released from juvenile detention for murdering his mother and stepfather. Now he’s looking for some tenderness—tenderness he finds in caressing and killing beautiful girls. Fifteen-year-old Lori has run away from home again. Emotionally naive but sexually precocious, she is also looking for tenderness—tenderness she finds in Eric. Will Lori and Eric be each other’s salvation or destruction?

“Cormier is in top form in this chilling portrait of a serial murderer. . . . Gripping.”—School Library Journal, Starred

An ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385731331
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 09/14/2004
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 586,184
Product dimensions: 5.13(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Robert Cormier has been called “the single most important writer in the whole history of young adult literature.” In 1991, he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution to writing for teens.

Date of Birth:

January 17, 1925

Date of Death:

November 2, 2000

Place of Birth:

Leominster, Massachusetts

Place of Death:

Leominster, Massachusetts


Fitchburg State College

Read an Excerpt

"You're a psychopath, Eric."  The smoke came out of the lieutenant's mouth as if his words were stoked by an inner fire.  "A monster."

Eric recoiled, as if the old cop had struck him in the face.  Monster?

"Chances are you'll kill again.  You know it and I know it."

Or was the old cop merely trying to taunt him?  Trying to make him lose his cool?  Don't let him do that.  Monster was only a word, anyway.  And those were the only weapons the lieutenant had: words.

"You're taking a lot for granted, Lieutenant," Eric said, the sound of his voice reassuring, establishing his control of the conversation once more. "You're making wild accusations.  I wasn't even convicted by a jury.  A judge heard my case.  He didn't think I was a monster.  He was very sympathetic.  So were a lot of other people."

"Other people?  Did you take a close look at them?  Who they were, what they were?  You killed your mother and father, Eric.  In cold blood."  Not sounding tired anymore.

Eric did not smile but his eyes gleamed.  The lieutenant did not know about the others.  Nobody knew about them.

Reading Group Guide

The discussion topics which follow, along with the author biography and interview, are meant to aid you in your exploration of Tenderness. We hope that they will increase your enjoyment of the book by providing insights into theme and character, clarifying points in the plot that you may have found ambiguous or confusing, and leading you to discuss and analyze the larger psychological, literary, and theological aspects of the novel. The questions are designed to appeal to a variety of reading levels and tastes.

1. The word "tenderness" has at least two kinds of meanings. Robert Cormier has suggested some of these in the two quotes which open the book: "To know the pain of too much tenderness" and "A part of the body that has been injured is often tender to the touch." How many meanings can you think of for the word "tenderness?" What things or actions could be said to be tender? Which of these imply the potential for pain?

2. Both Eric and Lori have a desperate need for tenderness, and both of them are driven by their need to acts beyond their control. How does the shape and degree of their need differ, in terms of giving or receiving tenderness? How does this difference affect the way they act out their needs? Does Cormier tell us about any circumstances in each of their past lives which might be the source of this need? Would any circumstances be enough to explain Eric's extreme pathology?

3. Cormier uses the first three chapters of the book to introduce us to Lori. What passages illustrate her naivete? Her innocent voluptuousness? Her goodhearted generosity? Her resourcefulness and independence? Her lack of conventional morality? What other good and bad qualities does Cormier see in her? In what way is her mother's "bad luck with men" a model for her? Later we learn that "Lori" is short for "Lorelei"—a name taken from the German legend of a Rhine maiden whose singing lured sailors to shipwreck on the rocks in the river. How is this an appropriate name for Lori? How is it not?

4. Lori's fixation on Throb is an example of our society's tendency to idolize celebrities, even when they are repulsive, like Throb, or evil, like Richard Ramirez, the Nightstalker. What celebrities do you admire? Why? To what lengths would you be willing to go to meet that person or to get their autograph? What do you think people are really looking for when they are fascinated with a famous person?

5. One of the most chilling passages in the book occurs on p. 29 when Eric remarks that kittens have "fragile bones as if they'd snap and break if you pressed too hard, caressed too hard. Which he did, of course, impossible to resist." Eric assumes that anyone would find the impulse to crush kittens as irresistible as he does. Have you ever wanted to hurt a helpless creature or person? What kept you from doing it? Or if you did do it, how did you feel afterwards? What are the elements missing in Eric's personality that keep him from having these controls?

6. In the first part of this book, Eric is released from the juvenile detention facility, even though he has admitted to two killings and is suspected of two others, because he has become eighteen and is no longer a minor. Do you think he should have been released? Should he have been executed for his parents' murders? As Eric knows, many states are now changing the law to make it possible to try juveniles as adults for adult crimes. Do you think this is right? Should children as young as five or six be tried as adults? At what age should people be required to assume responsibility for their actions?

7. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, once said, "No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks." Does Eric consider himself evil? What does he tell himself about the cat-killing that makes it seem to him not only all right, but a good thing? Why does he need to justify his actions like this? How does this delusion of innocence allow him to go on without guilt to the much worse evil of serial murder?

8. The tired old detective whose life has become focused on catching a certain criminal is a familiar character in fiction and film, beginning with Javert in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Jake Proctor, obsessed with convicting Eric Poole for his murders, is a clear example of this literary type. Like Eric and Lori, he is driven by an overwhelming need. What has happened to Jake in the past that makes catching Eric so important to him? What would the meaning of this conviction be for him and what need would it satisfy? In what two ways is he ultimately disappointed?

9. When Eric discovers Lori in his van, his first impulse is to tell her to get out. What are some of the other places in the story where she could have escaped but didn't? What effect does this have on the reader? Why does Lori stay with Eric? Why does he want to keep her with him? How does this shift and change as their relationship develops?

10. As a boy, Robert Cormier looked forward to an afternoon at the movies every Saturday, and afterward he went home and told the plots to his mother. Much of his early imaginative life was rooted in those films, and traces of their characters and situations show up often in his novels. In Tenderness the jail scenes in particular are full of allusions to the gangster films of the 1930s: the mess hall riot, the secret bully, the Irish guard, etc. Can you find other characters and scenes in the book that remind you of old movies?

11. Robert Cormier's novels have often been called "cinematic" by critics, meaning that the action proceeds in short dramatic scenes by dialog rather than description. Do you think Tenderness would make a good movie? Describe the actors who would play the main parts and pick out five important scenes. Should the movie be X-rated or R-rated? What would make the difference between the two classifications? Which would make a more effective movie? Which would make a more popular movie? Which do you think would be closer to Cormier's intention?

12. This narrative is told from the point of view of three different people: Lori, Eric, and Jake. Lori's sections are told in first person, that is, in her own voice. The sections focusing on Eric and Jake are told in omniscient third person, that is, by an imaginary narrator who knows what they are thinking. Why does Cormier do this? Do you find this technique confusing or helpful in keeping track of the story? How would the story have been different if Eric spoke in first person?

13. Typically a novel is built around conflict, the suspense-creating tension that rises to a peak of excitement and is resolved at the climax of the story. In Tenderness there are not one, but three lines of conflict, with three different resolutions. What is the climactic scene for each of these conflicts and how do they resolve the tension: the question of whether Eric will kill Lori? Jake Proctor's stalking of Eric? The growing possibility of love between Eric and Lori?

14. How does the setting of the scene at the carnival contrast with what is going on with Eric and Lori? What kind of music would you put behind this scene? Why does Cormier have Lori ride the Ferris wheel, and not the carousel or the dodge-em cars? Lori urges Eric to go off with Maria, knowing what will happen. Why is her self-sacrifice for love both unselfish and self-serving? How is it admirable and horrifying at the same time? What is revealed about Maria from her expression and actions when the police arrive?

15. As Eric's humanity begins to break through under Lori's influence, a repressed memory of his mother surfaces: "He remembered dark nights, her long black hair enveloping him, her lips trailing across his flesh..." What does this reveal about his childhood? About his need to kill only dark-haired women? Does this new knowledge change your feelings about his murder of his mother?

16. Irony is defined as "an outcome opposite to what was, or might have been expected." There are multiple ironies in Lori's death by drowning and its outcome. Most obvious is that Eric wants desperately to save the life of the woman he has been planning to kill for most of the book. What other ironies can you think of—for Lori, for Eric, and for Jake?

17. At the end of the story, when Eric is in his cell awaiting execution, he cries for the first time in his life, remembering Lori's unconditional love. What do you feel toward him at this point? How have your feelings changed over the course of the book? How has Cormier built up our sympathy for this serial killer?

18. But in the last line Cormier says "the monster also cried." Jake has called Eric a monster many times, but Eric has always indignantly rejected the term. Why does he feel so strongly about this? In jail, he thinks "What did the old cop know about monsters?" What does this tell us about what Eric knows about monsters? Who, or what, is the monster that cries, and what does this imply about the darkness that is in Eric's psyche? How is this darkness transformed by the monster's tears?

19. In Robert Cormier's novels, the good that the author really endorses often appears only as a reverse image, the positive in the reader's mind in reaction to the negative on the page. For instance, Eric's "tender" killings are a hideous parody of love, but as negative examples what do they make us realize about the true qualities of tenderness and love? In the end, which do you think Cormier says is more powerful, Eric's boundless evil or Lori's selfless love?

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Tenderness 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have you ever read a story that you feel like you are that character, or you just want to cry because you feel so bad for what happended to them. If you have or have not yet, TENDERNESS by Robert Cormier is the perfect book for you. In this book you will find two teenagers trying to find love, warmth, and just someone to be there for them. Eric has been in juvenile detention for a awhile now. On his 18th birthday he is released and is made the center of the media's attention. Lori is a girl who knows how to use her body to get what she wants. She gets fixated on things, and Eric is one of them. She hitch-hicked to get to his house and hides in his van so she can sleep, not knowing he is planning to run away with it. That is where their journey begins. They travel around hiding from the cops, which are now looking for him. Thats when Lori really falls in love with Eric. Together they face the problems that decide if they will live or die. Can they get out together, or will they both face an even worse fate than that.*hint-hint* one of them does die, i cried.
beckymmoe More than 1 year ago
A disturbing look into the psyche of two emotionally stilted young people that is definitely NOT for every young reader out there. The relationships portrayed in this novel are not at all healthy, and readers should be mature enough to understand the difference between what the characters are thinking and feeling and what true, healthy, mature relationships are like. I would not be comfortable having my preteen and teenage children reading this without discussing it with them as they do so. That said, it is well written, and Cormier does do a good job getting into the minds and motivations of the two main characters: Lori, the fifteen-year-old runaway and Eric, the eighteen-year-old serial killer she becomes fixated on. The ending is surprising and does leave a reader pondering a question of ends and means.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is A++.It is great and i didnt expect it to be a sad ending!! READ THIS BOOK!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was GREAT however the ending was terrible! There is so much more that could be said about the wonderful characters. The book was a great mystry with just enough romance to rope me in. I honestly could not put it down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book. It is an excellant curl-up-under-the-covers-in-the-rain type book. My favorite part was when it described Eric's or 'the monster's' victims. You should read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book, but I was kind of disapointed with the ending, it was something I really didn't expect. Even though it was a great thrill and I didn't want to put the book down. The thing I liked best about the novel was it's wording, that was pretty impressive. though best word that I liked from all the wordds used in the novel was the word the old lieutenant addressed him as, but of course I wouldn't tell you because I don't want to ruin the fun of it. Though still it is a book worth reading.
dordahsa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Upon reading, it's easy to understand why Cormier has such a reputation among the young adult audience. Even though his tales are not always to my taste, I have to admire his skill through the writing that is at the same time dark, comfortable, and complex. Eric, a seventeen year-old sociopath who has a fetish for the deaths of young women, pairs up with Lori, a runaway in this unlikely tale of two hearts finding their similar in another.
4sarad on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A dark, suspenseful story. I would have given it a higher rating, but I feel as though it should have been longer. I wanted to get to know the characters a bit more. It was definitely interesting to get into the head of a serial killer. I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, but the last scene in the jail as he thought of how she held him... that was touching.
Kaybowes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
All Eric Poole wants is to show some "tenderness" to girls. Just because that involves killing them shouldn't matter.His release from "juvie detention" after a three year stretch leads him to a strange encounter with a girl on a mission. She has obsessions with guys that makes her have to kiss them. Lori had seen Eric Poole years before when she was 12 years old and never released that she had power over him, because she saw him with a girl (that he had killed and hid) that was Eric's secret kill.Their journey together is one of two people searching for love and understanding, but ends with tragedy and reprecussions that finally curb the monster within Eric.Very much a psychological terror story. Popular author.
vpliving on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This young adult novel features a young serial killer, Eric Poole, who has recently been released from juvenile detention after 3 years for the murder of his parents. He is also a suspect in several other murders of young women but he was never proven guilty. One officer knows Eric is guilty of much more than killing his parents is determined to make sure he doesn't hurt another girl.Lori is a young runaway with a disturbing habit of using her sexuality to get things from men. She met Eric in passing when she was twelve, wandering the railroad tracks. She does not know it but she nearly missed witnessing a murder Eric committed. She often gets fixated on a specific man and must find him and kiss him on the mouth to end her obsession. Immediately after satisfying her latest fixation on a musician she sees the young killer on tv and is immediately hooked again, on Eric.Lori tracks Eric down at his aunt's home and the outcome is inevitable.
meggyweg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is probably the most explicit of Cormier's novels, in terms of both the sex and the violence. (But I've had the privilege of reading its early drafts and they made the final product seem quite tame!) It's structured almost as precisely as I am the Cheese. It takes a writer of great skill to get the reader to understand and sympathize with a teenage necrophiliac serial killer, even as they understand he must be brought down. Lori was blonde and big-breasted and promiscuous, but she was surprisingly innocent and likeable for all that. Jake Proctor could be seen as the stereotype of an old cop, but he's hardly a cardboard figure. Kudos to Cormier as usual.
gbjefferso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Eric, a complex serial killer, who is released from jail at the age of 18 for the contrived revenge killings of his abusive step-father and mother, encounters Lori, for the second time in his life, which leads to the unveiling of his psychopathic desires and underdeveloped emotions. The two main characters , both victims of sexual abuse, are easy to sympathize with as they try to quench their needs for affection through murder. High suspense with an unexpected twist. Mature topics are handled delicately. The book could be used in a high school psychology or ethics class.
punkypower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am such a Cormier fan. I can't believe that I am finally finding him in my late twenties. There are not a lot of young adult authors (especially in the 70s and 80s) who would take on such dark topics like bullying, murder, conformity, etc.What sets Cormier apart is that he carries this darkness all the way through, never giving us a neat little package at the end.Eric has been in juvy for three years, for the murder of his parents. He's about to turn 18, and he'll be out and his records will be sealed. If the police knew about the other girls, it would be a different story.Lori is a girl with a woman's body. She gets what what she wants short-term: money, cd's, rides. However, the thing she really wants is for her fixations to go away and to be loved.What happens when these two meet up for a second time?
Jade_Alanna More than 1 year ago
Different than a lot of other stories that I have read, but was very good. Lots of conflict and not the cheesy dramatic kind. A definite must read for anyone into mystery, murder, and romance all in one...
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Rissa90 More than 1 year ago
Wow, what a book! This book was pretty good, but just a little creepy and disturbing. You kinda get to see into a serial killer's mind. At times the book can be freaky. I was looking for more romance, and the ending killed it. Very sad ending, I wish it could have had a better ending! When I closed the book I was definitely bummed out.
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