Stories are how I relate to things. Articles, movies, and music are good. But books are what really get me. If I want to learn about something I might look up some articles, watch a movie or documentary on it and come out knowing some facts and have a general idea of how the topic affects people. But if I really want to understand, I’m going to go out and find a book that deals with it. The examples below are fiction books, but nonfiction are just as good for understanding. The books below deal with a variety of of people dealing with issues from sexual assault, drugs, bullying, child abuse, grief, mental disorders, suicide and false accusations. I know there are thousands more out there, but these are just a few of the one’s I’ve read and loved. Even when they’ve made me cry.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This one is a given. It’s everywhere these days, from people saying that this is what Trump’s America will turn into to the Hulu original show which was renewed for a second season. This book is a dystopian novel that takes place in the future in a place called the Republic of Gilead, a dictatorship that is located within the borders of the former United States. The book follows the story of Offred, who is a Handmaid. This basically means she’s raped by the Commander while his wife is forced to sit behind her on the bed and watch. It’s like a creepy ceremony. The point is to get her pregnant. Once a Handmaid is pregnant she’s force to bear the kid for her Commander and his wife and then give birth in another creepy ceremony attended by the Handmaids and wives. Creepy. “Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.” –Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. The book also details all the ways women’s rights have been terminated. They’re not allowed to read, everything is labeled with pictures. They’re not allowed to hold jobs or money. Etc. The New York Times did an interesting book review on it. You can see why it’s a given on this list.
Jodi Picoult writes about a lot of issues, I have three of her books on this list. Nineteen Minutes is a stark portrayal of a school shooting. It follows a judge, her daughter, a detective, the shooter and his family and several victims. The book shows the years leading up to the shooting and the fallout after. This book deals with bullying, suicide, teen pregnancy and post traumatic stress. As with most books on this list, read it with a box of tissues near by. “Can you hate someone for what they have done, but still love them for whom they had been?”– Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes. The New York Times also did a review of this book.
Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
I want to start off by saying that this book messed me up for days. Salem Falls is a book about labels. Jack is a high school teacher at a private girls school where he is falsely accused of having an inappropriate relationship with one of his students. He pleads guilty for a lesser sentence, nobody believes he’s innocent. “Lies were only as strong as the suckers that believed them.” –Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls. He wants a new start and finds it in Salem Falls, New Hampshire. But by law he has to register as a sex offender, and soon the whole town finds out. Throw in some teenage girls experimenting with Wicca, drugs, some unexpected revelations about sexual assault and a whole bunch of lies and you’ve got Salem Falls. Here’s a review that I thought was amazing. Trust me, there are some some things in here that are going to come out of nowhere and hit you in the face.
This is the third and last Jodi Picoult novel on my list. This book deals with teenage suicide, suicide pacts and the lasting effects on two families. There’s depression, teen pregnancy and sexual assault. While the main premise of the book is suicide and suicide pacts, I think that the real story is how the two families deal with it. As with all of Jodi’s books, expect the unexpected because nothing is quite how it seems. Every character tells their own story and nothing is strictly black and white. “There is no one truth. There’s only what happened, based on how you perceive it.” –Jodi Picoult, The Pact. Here’s a review that brings up some interesting questions about suicide and how far you would go for someone you loved.
Okay. So. Sarah Dessen is a young adult author who writes about the issues teenage girls face. “Don’t think or judge, just listen.” –Sarah Dessen, Just Listen. In Just Listen Annabel is dealing with watching one of her best friends date the guy who sexually assaulted her at the end of the last school year and the fact that her other best friend won’t talk to her. Annabel is a local model, but doesn’t really want to be, and her mother is a little too enthusiastic about her modeling. On top of that her whole family is dealing with the fact that one of her sisters developed an eating disorder while modeling in New York. And her recovery is not going smoothly. It’s a simple, straight to the point novel and it shows the after-effects of sexual assault on teenage girls and shows how scary eating disorders can be. I really enjoy this reviews‘ comment on how Annabel and her family live in a glass house.
“If you expect the worst, you’ll never be disappointed.” –Sarah Dessen, Lock & Key. This novel deals with 17 year old Ruby, whose mother is addicted to drugs and alcohol and abandons her. She ends up moving in with her sister. There’s more drugs and alcohol and she finds out the boy next door (who she ends up dating) has an abusive father. It’s an interesting story about how life can get better and that Ruby wasn’t the only one suffering in the novel. It shows that you never know the whole story of someone else’s life. Here’s a review that I thought had some good points about Ruby and how the flow of time in Lock & Key felt realistic.
Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
This is my favorite Sarah Dessen novel, I’ve read it six or seven times. And it makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. This book follows Caitlin who is struggling under her mother’s expectations that she live up to her older sister Cass who ran away 2 weeks before she was supposed to attend Yale. Caitlin ends up dating a guy named Rogerson, who becomes extremely abusive and introduces her to drugs. “I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t tell anyone. As long as I didn’t say it aloud, it wasn’t real.” –Sarah Dessen, Dreamland. Caitlin begins to smoke pot instead of attending class or cheerleading practice and she lives in fear of being late to meet Rogerson or doing something he doesn’t like (like talking to other guys). At one point in the book she says that the only time she feels safe is when she and Rogerson are having sex. Eventually, Rogerson gets so angry at her that he beats her in front of her house and her mother comes out to save her, seeing the assortment of old and new bruises all over Caitlin. Caitlin then gets sent to Evergreen Rest Care Facility after Rogerson is arrested. She’s admitted for drug addiction. But she still talks about loving and missing Rogerson. What gets me about this novel is that while it has a happy ending, it doesn’t negate the rest of the story by having Caitlin magically get over Rogerson just because she’s getting counseling. Caitlin didn’t stay with Rogerson throughout the novel because she was scared, she stayed because she loved him and I like how at the end she asks herself how she’s going to prepare for seeing him again because he’s out of jail and hanging around town again. It’s a good example of how people don’t always heal right away after the abuse stops, it takes time. There isn’t a book review that I’ve found for Dreamland that I think does it justice, so here’s what Sarah Dessen herself had to say.
Some Boys by Patty Blount
This is another book that made me cry. Some Boys follows Grace, who was raped by a popular boy at a party. After publicly accusing him, Grace is ostracized and bullied by her classmates. The boy who raped her also posts an edited video of the encounter, making it seem like she was into it. The only person who seems to believe Grace is her mother, who helps her deal with the panic attacks that happen on a regular basis after the rape and suggests a study abroad program to get away from the boys at school who think it’s funny to sexually harass her. “Hold your head up, Grace. Even when you’re dying inside—especially then—hold it up.” –Patty Blount, Some Boys. Grace develops a relationship with her rapists’ best friend and teammate, he slowly comes to believe her over the course of the book. Grace contemplates suicide, even going so far as to hold a broken piece of glass over her wrist. It’s a devastating book to read and shows why some girls don’t come forward when assaulted because of the bullying both online and in person. Here’s a review of Some Boys that I absolutely love.
This novel follow Caitlin after she learns that her best friend, Ingrid, committed suicide. Caitlin has to deal with her classmates callous curiosity and being ignored by her favorite teacher who is dealing trying to deal with Ingrid’s suicide in her own way. Caitlin finds Ingrid’s journal in her room where Ingrid left it for her before she died. She reads it hoping to find answers instead she finds Ingrid telling her that she’s sad, so sad. All the time. “You might be looking for reasons but there are no reasons.” –Nina LaCour, Hold Still. This is a good book to see the aftermath of suicide. There’s a review of Hold Still on the website for Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors.
This novel follows twins Jude and Noah. The past is Noah’s to tell while the present is told by Jude. When the novel begins Noah is a shy, artistic 13 year old who is falling in love with the boy next door, while Jude is a dare-devil who wears red lipstick but they are incredibly close. Fast-forward three years and Noah is popular in public school while Jude is a hypochondriac who sees ghost and is attending an art school. The twins barely speak to each other, each one holding a secret. “I didn’t know you could get buried in your own silence.” –Jandy Nelson, I’ll Give You the Sun. This novel deals with parental infidelity, the death of a parent, jealously, sexual orientation and guilt. The New York Times also did a review of I’ll Give You the Sun.