Tough Topics

Sexual assault, rape, harassment, and abuse are currently hot topics in the world and often ones we don’t like talking about. In light of recent world events, I’ve thought a great deal about these topics and their impact on our society. For many people, it is hard to fathom having to go through a situation of rape or assault. We can’t understand why a person stays in an abusive relationship. It’s easy to blame someone for not coming forward until years after an attack when we ourselves have not experienced it. Most of us can not understand why for some people, just talking about these topics cause intense emotional feelings. Yet, I think these are things we need to not only be aware of but also discuss. 

As with many things, I think books can help us all. They offer us a glimpse into situations we have not experienced and help provide us with a valuable perspective. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few books which I think can help those of us who have not personally experienced these traumatic events. My hope is, like me, if you read them you will gain a layer of understanding and empathy for things far too many people have lived through and continue to live with.


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The first ten lies they tell you in high school.

“Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. (From Amazon)


The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

During the summer between fifth and sixth grades, Owen’s best friend is exploited by an adult male babysitter.

Narrator Owen Todd is 11, white, living with his parents and 5-year-old sister in a small town on Cape Cod. His father is co-owner with Owen’s uncle of a go-kart business, and his mother makes crafts and volunteers “a couple of places.” Sean Huff, Owen’s best friend from kindergarten, is also white, but he’s diabetic, shorter than Owen, and frequently sits out their baseball games on the bench, and his parents are separated. Sean’s mother has engaged a young white man from their church to “babysit” Sean while she works at a new job in Provincetown. Paul behaves oddly with Sean, failing to close the bathroom door while urinating and, later, “accidentally” showing Sean a picture of a naked boy on his cellphone. Sean later reveals to Owen that Paul’s behavior has become aggressive—and includes other men. Abbott handles this escalation with care, demonstrating the ways that a predator can isolate and intimidate a victim. Sean is so wounded and terrified that he convinces Owen he will kill himself if Owen breaks his confidence. Owen acts at last, with a bit of rash courage, but the end of the story is only partly happy. (from Kirkus Review)


 Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

An unlikely teenager starts a feminist revolution at a small-town Texan high school in the new novel from Jennifer Mathieu, author of The Truth About Alice.


Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with an administration at her high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot! (From Amazon)


I have personally read all three of these books and hope they will help readers gain at least some small portion of understanding about assault and abuse. If you have any other books or resources you think would be helpful, please leave it in the comments.