Tenderness (novel)

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This article is about the book. For the film, see Tenderness (film).
Author Robert Cormier
Country United States
Language English
Genre Young adult novel
Publisher Bantam Doubleday
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 240
ISBN 0-385-73133-7

Tenderness is a 1997 novel written by Robert Cormier.[1] It is the basis for John Polson's 2008 film of the same name.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

Eric Poole is a convicted teenage serial killer. Lorelei "Lori" Cranston is a troubled 15 year old girl. Their lives intersect as they both search for "tenderness." The word tenderness itself is disputed as it is never clearly defined but is implied to be the struggle between love, lust, and the need for both, though it later becomes clear the definition of "tenderness" is quite different for each.

Lori is described as a beautiful girl with a very mature body at a young age. Consequently she must constantly deal with the wanted, and unwanted, sexual attention she receives from men. Her father was struck by a car when Lori was only two, leaving her and her mother to fend for themselves. They live on the east coast and are constantly moving. Her alcoholic mother has a history of troubled and abusive relationships. Her mother's latest ongoing relationship is to a man named Gary, who also has a sexual interest in Lori. Upon arriving in a new town Lori's mother begins working as a waitress, drinking so much she forgets Lori's birthday. This causes Lori to feel sad, yet remain in denial about her mother's problems, finding excuses and rationalizing her mother's behavior. Lori decides to run away leaving her mother a note in which Lori says she'll be staying with friends for a while. Though Lori admits that the friends mentioned in the note are a lie, she feels that she has successfully tricked her mother into believing they are real simply because her mother never asks about them, though other characters in the book imply that Lori's mom does know she has run away and simply does not care.

As a little boy in New England, Eric Poole already exhibited symptoms of a sociopath. In accordance with one of the traits on the MacDonald Triad (used in identifying early characteristics of sociopaths), Eric tortured small animals, namely kittens. He does not feel any remorse and instead feels he is controlling the feline population in his neighborhood. Eventually, he moves from torturing kittens to killing his aunt's canary. Once sparked, his enjoyment in killing soon becomes a fixation, and he seeks to move on to larger prey, namely people. Eric is described as a tall, slender, blond, blue eyed and charming boy of 15 when he commits his first murders, He has no trouble luring in his victims with his innocent smile which he practices in the mirror. Though the book does not clarify whether or not they were murdered first, Eric is tried for murder as a juvenile and convicted for murdering only his mother and stepfather, whom he hates. He explains he murdered his mother in resentment for marrying his stepfather. Because Eric burned his arm with cigarettes and purposefully broke his own arm with a hammer, he managed to convince people he was abused by his parents. Yet he did not manage to fool everyone, especially Jake Proctor, a detective, who keeps a close eye on him throughout the book. There are three more of Eric's victims: all female, slender, with dark-hair and eyes. Eric describes the feeling of murdering girls with these specific characteristics as tenderness — tenderness associated with sexual desire. When Eric meets Lori, he also feels tenderness for her — tenderness to protect her.

On his 18th birthday Eric is released from the juvenile criminal facility. His release causes a controversy in the community causing a media circus outside the facility. It is during a broadcast of his release that Lori first sees Eric and her fixation begins. During his stay in the facility, he kept to himself as much as possible and became known as "the Ice Man." One day, as he is on the verge of raping and killing another inmate, he changes his mind at the last minute and instead instructs him to stop bothering another inmate known as "Sweet Lefty." Sweet Lefty is indebted to Eric and comes into play later in the story, as he helps Eric out in various situations. Also, during Eric's stay in the facility, he meets Maria Valdez, whom he calls the Senorita. She fits the description of his preferred victims and he soon feels the need to have "tenderness" with her. Days before his release she gives him her phone number and he begins making plans to meet with her. Once out of the facility he moves in to his aunt's house in Massachusetts where the media circus follows, as well as Lori. One day Eric spots Lori on the front page of a newspaper, where she is known simply as "Ms. Anonymous." Lori's face sparks a memory about Eric's fourth and possibly last murder. Soon after receiving his driver's license Eric begins his planned road trip to find the Senorita, Maria Valdez. However, Lori is hiding in the car's back seat.

Once he realizes Lori is in the back seat he agrees to drop her off at the next town but instead shows Lori the time of her life before he attempts to kill her at night. After shopping and going to a diner, Lori falls asleep at a motel where Eric tries to kill her, but he finds himself unable to do so. Lori wakes up and realizes what has occurred, and she was scared but stayed with him anyway. The next day at a carnival Eric meets the Maria. He attempts to murder her but Lori steps in and warns him that it's a set-up.

Eric goes to a river nearby with Lori and goes on a boat where Lori falls and drowns. She makes an attempt to take Eric with her. The cops arrive and think Eric killed her, they incarcerate him. The book closes with Jake Proctor feeling guilty that it took the life of an innocent girl to lock Eric up and with Eric crying over his loss.

Supporting characters[edit]

Lieutenant Jake Proctor
Retired cop, now a detective. Proctor labeled Eric a psychopath and a monster incapable of feeling. Proctor doubts Eric's accusations of abuse, and he strongly suspects Eric of having committed at least two other murders. The two seem to like each other but are ultimately at cross purposes. Proctor takes Eric's case personally, as 20 years before he let another young man, who resembles Eric and also suspected of murder, go free when he had equally strong doubts. Now Proctor is determined to prove Eric’s guilt and put and bring him to justice, this time as an adult. Proctor hopes this will put an end to his nightmares of murder victims denied justice which keep him up at night.

Aunt Phoebe
A well dressed, never married, and attractive woman, Eric's aunt is also the owner of the parrot murdered at Eric’s hands. She offers Eric a place to stay once he was released from the facility.

Maria Valdez
The beautiful dark haired, dark eyed Hispanic girl who fits the usual look of Eric's victims. She gives Eric her number while in the facility, and later meets him at the state fair. She is revealed to be working with police.

The young cop who helps Proctor catch Eric in the act, whether real or framed.

Sonny Boy
Sweet Lefty's torturer and resident bully at the facility.

Sweet Lefty
An easygoing and usually well-liked inmate who is bullied by other inmates but "rescued" by Eric.

Ross Packer
A young reporter at the Wickburg Telegram who writes the Ms. Anonymous piece on Lori which Eric later reads.

One of the nicer men Lori's mom has dated. Gary also feels attracted to Lori.

An ex of Lori's mother who beat her, giving her a black eye, then fled soon afterward.

Mr. Clayton
The driver of the van who picks up Lori when she hitchhikes and succumbs to her seductions. Lori steals his wallet and decides to mail it back to him, though she never does because it is later stolen from her.

Phyllis Kendall
A beautiful old woman with white hair who is also the caretaker and mentor at the teen pregnancy center, Harmony House.

Mrs. Hornsby
An out of place cook at the teen pregnancy center, Harmony House.

An exceptionally big pregnant teen at Harmony House

Another very pregnant teen girl

A frail tiny girl who is also Lori's rival, she tries to frame her for theft at Harmony House.

Leader of a gang

A plump girl who is a member of the gang, and later become pregnant and attends Harmony House teen pregnancy center

A skinny little kid who wanted to act tough and was also part of the gang


  1. ^ Mosle, Sara (1998-08-02). "Culture Zone; The Outlook's Bleak". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-25. [dead link]
  2. ^ "King of the shorts is still on a roll". Sydney Morning Herald. 2008-02-16. Retrieved 2008-02-25.