Take 5: Important Books on a Difficult Topic – Sexual Violence in the Lives of Teens
When I lost my baby, I went into a deep, dark hole. The only thing that helped me claw my way out of the darkness was to read books about other women having a miscarriage. It helped me know that I wasn’t alone, that what I was feeling was perfectly normal, and that I could once again – one day – find my way into the light. That is one of the magical powers of books, they hold our hand on a healing journey and they remind us that the world is big and there are others that do in fact understand what we are going through. And if you haven’t been through it, they can help shed light on the feelings and emotions that those that have may be feeling.
Statistics indicate that by the time they are 18 years old, 1 out of 3 (or 4) girls and 1 out of 5 boys will have experienced some type of sexual violence in their lives. A troubling statistic to be sure. One that needs to change, to zero. But it also means that there is a need for books written for teens to include these types of horrific acts. Not for shock value, but to be the books that remind those teens that they can claw their way out of the darkness. And to remind those of us that work with and care about teens what their lives may be like, and the emotions that come with that. As the mom of two little girls, my hope is that we will read these types of books, be horrified, and join together to work to make sure that no more children have to experience this type of abuse and the painful emotional after effects, emotions that can plague survivors for the rest of their lives.
These are 5 books that I think we should all read, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. Please note, if you click after the jump there will be spoilers for a couple of new titles. Also, please be aware that the discussion of the titles and of course the titles themselves can be triggers.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak is one of the classics on this topic. It is a haunting tale of the emotional after effects of one girls rape at a party. So traumatized is she by what happens, she literally shuts down and loses her voice. It is also about her slow journey to find herself again, and to speak up when the moment calls for it. Laurie Halse Anderson is an advocate for rape victims and works with RAINN. 1999, Highly Recommended
Fault Line by Christa Desir
Although rape affects its victims greatly, it also affects those that love them. Fault Line is unique in that it looks at how rape can affect those that love its victims, in this case the boyfriend. Told entirely from the boyfriend’s point of view, we see guilt and the desire to rescue those we love as they spiral into the dark aftermath of rape. Fault Line is also important because it reminds us that not all who are assaulted become quiet and withdrawn, sometimes they react by becoming promiscuous and trying to take control of their sexuality by having a lot of sexual experiences. This is emotionally a very hard read, and it is very frank in its depiction of many sexual situations and strong emotions. It is a unique and important perspective. 2013, Recommended
Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
Callie has spent her life on the road fleeing with her mother, who kidnapped her from her father. Along the way, her mother has had various men in her life, one of whom did horrible things to her. Where the Stars Still Shine is a beautiful, moving portrait of the deep emotional effects of childhood abuse. It is one of the most well developed emotional portraits I have read. Like in Fault Line, Callie becomes promiscuous as a way to try to take control of her sexuality and to try and find the perfect healing sexual experience; It gives her a power over herself that this man in her past took away. But unlike Fault Line, this story is told from the victim’s point of view so we get a deep, nuanced look into Callie’s psyche. There is a scene where she freaks out during a sexual encounter because it triggers her that just rings truer than most scenes I have ever read. It is also a book that leads Callie into a journey of healing as she finds people who truly love her. As a side note, it is also a good depiction of mental illness (her mother). Also, there are some disturbing, very realistic scenes that depict what has happened to Callie; though they are not graphic in their depiction, they are so spot on in capturing the terror and emotions. 2013, Highly Recommended
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
There is a rape that occurs in this book, and it is disturbing. Very disturbing. But there are also two scenes of street harassment in this book. On the surface, they don’t necessarily need to be in the book. But I am glad that Fama included them because it is a powerful reminder of what life for many can be like, how they can have these totally random and unexpected moments where suddenly they find themselves in a perilous position being harassed and frightened by both people they know and complete strangers. They are effective reminders of what life is like because they don’t need to be in the story, but they are. Just as these moments shouldn’t be in the lives of our teens, but they are. When we have written about street harassment here in the past we get a lot of comments from teens who tell us about how they are harassed while walking to and from school and sometimes even in their school hallways. They way these scenes are included in Monstrous Beauty is a stark reminder of the reality of street harassment. 2012, Highly Recommended
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Sexual violence doesn’t just happen to girls. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a powerful story of the emotional effects of rape and sexual violence on a boy, Leonard. Leonard sets out on his birthday to kill himself, but only after killing the boy who did something horrible to him. There is a powerful scene where Leonard tells a teacher what happened and he looks at him and says, “You know that boys can be raped, too, don’t you?” (not an exact quote from the book, I don’t have it sitting in front of me). In that moment he has put a name to that which Leonard could not. 2013, Highly Recommended
In these books, the teens don’t always seek out help (in fact, they almost never do). And the adults don’t always do the right thing. But the power is in how well they capture the emotions. And these are, of course, not the only titles on the subject; many would argue sometimes not even the best. However, my goal is to capture a wide range of experiences and emotions to represent a wider view on the topic. Share your thoughts in the comments.
More on the Topic in Teen Issues:
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books?
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit. A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex.
Incest, the last taboo
This is What Consent Looks Like
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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