Tender Beasts

S. & S./McElderry. Feb. 2024. 416p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781665903523.
Gr 9 Up–Sunny Behre has lived a charmed life as part of the uber-wealthy Behre clan, a Black Canadian ranching family that also runs an elite school for underprivileged students. But when her mother, the family matriarch, dies, she doesn’t leave Sunny the coveted spot of de facto family leader as anticipated—instead, she leaves a note telling her to “look after Dom,” Sunny’s 15-year-old brother. Sunny has her work cut out for her when Dom, the family outsider, is accused of killing his girlfriend and then found at the scene of a second violent murder, this time of a student at the Behre Academy. Although she questions whether Dom is truly innocent, Sunny was raised to protect her family at all costs and the two team up to find the true murderer. But the investigation rapidly goes south as Sunny receives incoherent threats from a strange woman, other students turn up dead, and the remaining Behre siblings and father begin to act erratically. The present-day narrative is broken up with diary entries written by Sunny’s mother in the 1990s, detailing a ritualistic childhood game of animal torture that culminates in a massacre. While the book’s first half is slow and somewhat repetitive, an ominous tone, off-kilter family dynamics, and increasingly sinister diary entries ratchet up the tension until reaching the bloody, unsettling denouement.
VERDICT A fresh horror offering mixes social commentary on race and class with gore and supernatural possession. Recommended for general purchase.

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