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Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson

BOTTOM LINE: Creepy and different

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: 13 February 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“At fourteen, Alice Hill was viciously attacked by two of her classmates and left to die. The teens claim she was a sacrifice for a man called Mister Tender, but that could never be true: Mister Tender doesn’t exist. His sinister character is pop-culture fiction, created by Alice’s own father in a series of popular graphic novels.

Over a decade later, Alice has changed her name and is trying to heal. But someone is watching her. They know more about Alice than any stranger could: her scars, her fears, and the secrets she keeps locked away. She can try to escape her past, but Mister Tender is never far behind. He will come with a smile that seduces, and a dark whisper in her ear…

Inspired by the Slender Man crime, this gripping thriller plunges you into a world of haunting memories and unseen threats, leaving you guessing until the harrowing end.”

My Thoughts: There is nothing unique about Mister Tender’s Girl, but there is still something compelling about it. Some of it is due to the nature of the crime. Another element is Alice herself. The rest is due to Carter Wilson‘s ability to write a story.

Mister Tender’s Girl mimics the real-life Slender Man crime with an added dimension; Mister Tender is the creation of the victim’s father. As the story occurs more than a decade after the attack, we see the long-term damage wrought on Alice, her mother, and their family. No one comes through the event unscathed, but the levels of psychological damage in each party is as surprising as it is interesting. In particular, the exploration of guilt and forgiveness – of the girls, of Alice’s father – is thought-provoking.

Alice is quite the character. What occurred to her that long-ago evening left more than physical scars, and no amount of time will recover what she lost. Nor does it help with the nightmares and flashbacks that cause debilitating anxiety attacks. The one thing Alice has become though is a fighter and not just physically. She knows her weaknesses and never stops attempting to overcome them. Moreover, she has wrested back control of her life from her overbearing mother, from the media, from her assailants, and from wacky fans. Watching her struggle to maintain that control is heartbreaking because every time she succumbs to the panic reaffirms just how thin her veneer of control really is. She is not fragile, as her determination to uncover the truth behind Mister Tender’s return confirms. However, the damage resulting from that night never stays far from the alsurface, and Alice’s coping mechanisms are not enough to protect her from the flood of emotions and memories Mister Tender’s return causes.

Mr. Wilson is able to take this psychologically complex story and create one that is difficult to stop reading. He does this by allowing us inside fierce but vulnerable Alice and the effed-up situation in which she finds herself. And the situation is disturbingly odd. There are some twists that take you by surprise and have you questioning everything alongside Alice. He utilizes the setting really well to set the mood and enhance the creep factor, but it is through Alice and her relationships with others where he tugs your heartstrings.

In spite of all of this goodness,  Mister Tender’s Girl as it draws to a close. Your interest in and sympathy for Alice never waivers. The problem occurs with the identity of Mister Tender and the answers to some long-held questions. What was creepy becomes a bit preposterous, and it takes you right out of the story. Plus, as fantastic as the story is (until the end), it is not very memorable. When working on writing this review several weeks after finishing the novel, I could only remember that I enjoyed reading it but could not recall any details or even the basic plot. Novels like these are not bad things as they serve the purpose of escapist literature, and sometimes you need to escape into a somewhat sinister world of cat and mouse. There is a part of me though that wishes the story would have held strong until the end and been more memorable than it is because I so thoroughly enjoyed reading it. At the end of the day though, Mister Tender’s Girl is another example that we cannot always get what we want.

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