Mister Tender’s Girl is the purest definition of “three out of five stars” that I can come up with right now. The negatives and the positives of the novel are just enough at war with each other to make this an acceptable late night read, but don’t expect some deeper, unsettling human anecdote beneath.
Alice Hill is 14 years old when she’s stabbed in a park by a pair of creepy twin sisters who have an obsession with Mister Tender, a popular graphic novel character that Alice’s father famously draws. Mister Tender is the pseudo-Slender Man of internet fame. In an interview at the back of the book, Carter Wilson admits that he read about the Slender Man legend and the real-life girls who stabbed their classmate in the park and modeled this novel after the incident. He decided not to read into the legend any further, so as not to taint his creation.
I really wish he would have read further.
Instead of a creepy maybe-paranormal romp through psychological tension and real fear, we have a book about a young woman grappling with anxiety disorder and a stalker who (SPOILER) is the Real Mister Tender, who inspired her father’s Graphic Novel Mister Tender. Real Mister Tender is just some dude who worked as a bartender and (more SPOILERS) is Alice’s actual birth father. The Real Mister Tender is pretty warped and likes to stalk and play games with Alice, dredging up old druggy exes and supplying Alice with a gun so she can “defend herself.” He’s putting her in danger so he can save her, that’s his shtick. Thanks, dad.
Slender Man, the internet urban legend, is a manifestation of mythos and the game Telephone. The psychological ramifications of children stabbing, setting fires, and maiming because “the Slender Man told me to” is absolutely stunning. Just thinking about the acute hysteria of it all makes me want to scroll over to creepy pasta and read more about Slender Man. Mister Tender doesn’t hold a candle to his muse, nor does Carter Wilson write with the lingering mystery a tale like this is due.
What Wilson does do very well is write a great heroine. Alice Hill is strong, but not in an overly sassy or gnawingly bitter way that most writers make their female heroines in order to show that they’re strong. She’s not a victim, but she’s also not without a fragility a reader can love and relate to. She feels real, as does her inner monologue, her very traumatizing relationship with her sick mother, her protective love for her younger brother, her desire to seek purchase in a new life. I genuinely like Alice and it feels like I’m reading two novels bumping heads—a survivor story a la JLo’s classic Enough, and a flimsy stalker mystery with less than no substance.
Also, just a personal aside, I can’t roll my eyes hard enough when characters say, “We can’t go to the police, they wouldn’t understand.” To me, that wreaks of plot nonsense the author just can’t write around.
Read this if you’d like to check out briefly into the body of a female protagonist with grit, but not for a whodunnit with a satisfying ending. You’ll get much less than you bargained for.
Memorable Quotes, and for pop fiction there were frighteningly few:
“You’re just one story in the millions. One tragedy out of all the countless tragedies that fuel the world. Just a speck of sorrow on this whole shitbed of a planet.”
“There’s nothing in this world more trapping than one’s own mind.”
I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Penguin Random House through Bookish First.