We SHOULD Be Uncomfortable: The importance of addressing sexual assault in YA books, a guest post by Kim DeRose
I was more than a little apprehensive when my mom informed me that a friend of hers from church wanted to read my debut YA novel with her book club.
“Oh, that’s great,” I replied, all while the little voice in my head—the good girl who under no circumstances wants to get in trouble— shouted, uh oh. “Just as long as they’re comfortable with the subject matter,” I added. “Because, you know, it’s not light.”
I’m very aware that my debut, For Girls Who Walk Through Fire, might make some people uncomfortable. After all, it centers on a group of teen girls who meet in a sexual assault support group and form a coven to get revenge against their assailants. Think The Craft meets Promising Young Woman. Which means there’s witchcraft, and revenge, and a very direct discussion of sexual assault. Oh, and there’s cursing—both the magical and verbal kind (sorry, Mom, I had to be truthful to these characters).
The book has been called a “searing examination of sexual assault” by Kirkus Reviews, and “a bold and compassionate debut” by Booklist. And while the addition of magic and witchcraft hopefully makes the book more accessible and, in many ways, fun for the reader, I did not take the mission of addressing sexual assault and abuse lightly.
It’s a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I know something of what my characters, Elliott, Madeline, Chloe, and Bea, go through; the experience of carrying trauma and finding a path toward healing is one I’m familiar with. And if I’m being really honest? There were plenty of times that I wished I had a spell book.
For many people there isn’t a clear path toward justice. There’s no court sentence, or civil case, or arrest, or public outcry. There’s no formal letter of apology or reckoning of any sort. There’s not even an acknowledgement that something happened. It’s kind of like having someone march into your house uninvited and burn it down, and then not even acknowledge that the fire happened even though you’re sitting there in the ashy remains.
So, is it any wonder that in the wake of that kind of trauma someone might be drawn toward the concept of revenge? That they might be enamored with the notion that a magical spell book could secretly dole out the punishment that they know is so badly deserved?
That someone was clearly me.
But I’m pretty sure that someone is a lot of people.
According to MeToo International, one in four women will experience rape or attempted rape during their lifetime, and 81% of women will experience some form of sexual assault or sexual harassment. On top of that, the average age of sexual assault is fifteen-years-old.
Not everyone is comfortable addressing heavy topics in YA books. Some people go so far as to ban those kinds of YA books. But when you look at the statistics it’s very clear that these things are happening in teens actual lives. And maybe they’ll tell someone about it, but maybe they won’t. Maybe the only way they’ll feel safe processing their own experience is through a book. Maybe a book is the only way they’ll feel seen.
Librarians know this; it’s why I am so immensely grateful for the librarians out there fighting to keep books on the shelves and to get stories like mine into the hands of the teens who so desperately need them.
Talking about the ramifications of sexual assault and abuse isn’t the issue; the existence of sexual assault and abuse is the issue. That’s what we should be up in arms over. That’s what we should be banning.
So, here’s the thing I’ve recently decided: I want my mom’s friend from church to read my book with her book club, and I want it to make them uncomfortable.
Not because my characters have a desire for revenge and a determination to get it any way possible, even if it’s via witchcraft, but because of what happened to them to create their trauma in the first place.
I hope this book finds its way to the readers who need it most and makes them feel seen. But I also hope this book inspires conversation, and debate, and, ultimately, action. So many people have walked through fire, or will walk through fire, or are walking through fire right now, and what we need is a collective flood of empathy and outrage, and a fierce determination to put the fire out.
Meet the author
Kim DeRose grew up in Santa Barbara, California, where she spent childhood summers holed up in her bedroom, reading and writing stories (which she was convinced her local bookstore would publish). She now lives in New York City, where she still holes up in her bedroom reading, and writing stories. DeRose earned her MFA in film directing from UCLA, and she currently works in digital media. When she isn’t reading or writing, she can be found geeking out over her favorite obsessions (Twin Peaks, Harry Potter, and anything Halloween-related, to name a few), drinking way too much coffee, listening to way too many podcasts, and spending time with her family. For Girls Who Walk Through Fire is her debut novel.
About For Girls Who Walk Through Fire
Those who would suppress and destroy you stand not a chance when confronted with the power that lies within these pages . . .
Elliott D’Angelo-Brandt is sick and tired of putting up with it all. Every week, she attends a support group for teen victims of sexual assault, but all they do is talk. Elliott’s done with talking. What she wants is justice.
And she has a plan for getting it: a spell book that she found in her late mom’s belongings that actually works. Elliott recruits a coven of fellow survivors from the group. She, Madeline, Chloe, and Bea don’t have much in common, but they are united in their rage at a system that heaps judgments on victims and never seems to punish those who deserve it.
As they each take a turn casting a hex against their unrepentant assailants, the girls find themselves leaning on each other in ways they never expected—and realizing that revenge has heavy implications. Each member of the coven will have to make a choice: continue down the path of magical vigilantism or discover what it truly means to claim their power.
For Girls Who Walk Through Fire is a fierce, deeply moving novel about perseverance in the face of injustice and the transformational power of friendship.
Publisher: Union Square & Co.
Publication date: 09/26/2023
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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