Handle with Care: “delicate” topics in books for teens, a guest post by author Gigi Griffis
“God, is everyone’s dad just evil?”
That line stopped me in my tracks while reading Tess Sharpe’s well-crafted thriller The Girls I’ve Been. The plot is a bank heist gone wrong, but tucked into that plot is a story about surviving trauma. A story about what happens when teens are not just failed by their parents and caretakers but hurt by them too.
It’s also a story about abuse—told in a way that doesn’t shy away from the truth of what it feels like to be harmed by someone who is supposed to protect you. At the same time, it’s told in a way that offers hope, believes in resilience, and gives hurting teens a happy ending.
Much like my own YA debut, The Wicked Unseen.
On the surface, mine is a story about a creepy town, a forest full of secrets, and the disappearance of the protagonist’s crush. It’s an “absorbing mystery” (Kirkus), an unsettling horror novel, and a “love letter to the classic 90s slashers” (Jessica Lewis). And when you dig deeper, it’s a story about teens who have been hurt and gaslit and are doing whatever they can to survive.
As a trauma survivor myself, I believe these kinds of stories—about hard topics like abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, and other things that can be challenging to talk about—are vital for teens. For those who have lived through or are living through abusive situations, they provide a spark of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Someone else got through, the story whispers. Someone had a happy ending. And you can too.
They also act as a mirror with another powerful message: you aren’t alone. Your feelings are valid. Your experience is real.
And for teens who haven’t felt those traumas on their own skin, in their own bones, the stories create empathy and hand them tools to cope with difficult things—whether those things come to them later in life or whether they have a friend in a bad situation and don’t know what to do.
When I set out to write my novel, this was my battle cry. To tell a real horror story underneath the horror story. To say: I see you. To say: It gets better. And to offer up some tools and truths that help us get through.
I also set out to shine a bright light on some dark truths. Because abuse thrives when it’s hidden, ignored, hand-waved away. Knowing what to look for, knowing where it might hide, empowers us.
There is a balancing act here, of course. Authors need to take great care to tell the truth about trauma without enacting trauma on their readers—especially when those readers are young people.
In books that do this well—like The Girls I’ve Been, Bad Witch Burning, and (I hope) The Wicked Unseen—the balance seems to be found by threading hope and answers amidst the darker tapestry of the trauma itself.
In The Girls I’ve Been, the hurting teens have found each other and are offering mutual support. In Bad Witch Burning, a suicidal teen recognizes her darkest impulse and finds the strength to say no. In The Wicked Unseen, information about what abuse is, how it often doesn’t look how we expect, and where someone might find help is threaded subtly through the story.
When I was a hurting teen, I turned to the library (and book catalogs, I realize as I crumble into dust) for comfort, for answers, and for hope. It was books that taught me that I could triumph, books that taught me that my hardest feelings mattered.
And I hope that books like mine are continuing that tradition, digging that reservoir of hope on the library shelves a little deeper, finding their way into the hands of the kids who need them. Offering truth—even hard, traumatic truth—alongside bright, unwavering hope.
In a time when book banning is headline news and young people are finding it harder to access that reservoir of hope, I also want to say thank you to the librarians out there fighting to keep hope and truth on your shelves. The teens who need these stories are brave, and so are the librarians who put them into those teens’ hands.
Meet Author Gigi Griffis
Gigi Griffis is the author of the Netflix tie-in novel The Empress and creepy YA horror The Wicked Unseen (2023) and We Are The Beasts (2024), among other things. She’s a sucker for little-known histories, “unlikable” female characters, and all things Europe. After almost ten years of semi-nomadic life, she now lives in Portugal with an opinionated Yorkie-mix named Luna and a fancy blender that cost more than her couch.
Gigi’s work has been translated into 17+ languages, and she has been featured in WestJet Magazine, Netflix Tudum, The New York Times, Noble Blood, and more.
ABOUT THE WICKED UNSEEN
The new girl in town is having trouble fitting into a community that believes there’s a secret Satanic cult conducting rituals in the woods. When her crush goes missing, she starts to wonder if the town’s obsession with evil isn’t covering up something far worse. Perfect for fans of Fear Street!
From the moment Audre arrives in rural Pennsylvania, it’s clear she won’t fit in. After all, her nose ring, her horror movie obsession, and her family’s Ouija board collection aren’t likely to endear her to a town convinced there’s a secret Satanic cult conducting rituals in the nearby woods.
When the preacher’s daughter and Audre’s crush, Elle, goes missing on Halloween weekend, the town is quick to point fingers in Audre’s direction. With the cops busy harassing her family for being nonbelievers and everyone else convinced demons are to blame, Audre realizes she might be the only person who can find her friend.
But the deeper Audre digs, the weirder it gets. Has Elle fallen victim to a Satanic ritual, or is the town’s obsession with the occult covering up something even more sinister?
Praise for The Wicked Unseen:
Featured in Gay Times’ list of “LGBTQ Books to Read Right Now“!
“[Y]our next favorite thriller novel.”—Teen Vogue
“This queer mystery is for all the fans of Fear Street!”—Autostraddle
“You’ll definitely want this one on your radar.”—Paste
“A spooky story you can’t set down. If you love escaping into an engrossing mystery, this much-anticipated debut novel is just the thing.”—Brightly
“The gentle queer romance enhances this novel that explores Satanic panic. An absorbing mystery.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In her debut novel, Griffis nimbly weaves together horror tropes and social commentary…At times discomforting and chilling, and at others thrilling and empowering, The Wicked Unseen will be a popular addition to mystery and horror shelves.”—Booklist
“Hair-raising. Griffis captures the reality of this 1980s and ’90s cultural moment with eerie resonance, and brisk pacing paired with clever mystery elements deliver. ”—Publishers Weekly
“This book is religious horror and queer teens who are forced to navigate it at its finest. A fantastic love letter to the classic 90s slashers and a triumphant debut.”—Jessica Lewis, author of Bad Witch Burning
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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