April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The statistics are horrifying, staggering, alarming, shameful: One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides these statistics and more here.
Last week for Teen Librarian Toolbox, I wrote about rape culture, the ways we all contribute to it, and some steps we can take to identify and change those beliefs and behaviors. But as a reader and as an author, I also turn to books for education, comfort, and therapy.
Perhaps because sexual violence is so deeply embedded in our culture, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books about the topic. For victims and survivors of sexual assault, reading about others’ ordeals will show them that they are not alone, that what happened was not their fault, and will encourage them to seek help. For friends and family of survivors, reading books about sexual assault will help them empathize and understand, and will show them the right and wrong ways to help. Through books, we can heal, support, protect, and prevent.
Below, I’m sharing with you ten YA novels about sexual assault, books I personally recommend because they resonated with me so deeply that I’ve thought about them every day since I read them. (Full disclosure: I am the author of Aftermath, a story inspired by true events from my childhood that I’ve thought about daily for over thirty years. You can read about the kidnapping that that inspired Aftermath on my blog.)
Alphabetically, by title:
Charlotte survived four long years as a prisoner in the attic of her kidnapper, sustained only by dreams of her loving family. The chance to escape suddenly arrives, and Charlotte fights her way to freedom.
But an answered prayer turns into heartbreak. Losing her has torn her family apart. Her parents have divorced: Dad’s a glutton for fame, Mom drinks too much, and Charlotte’s twin is a zoned-out druggie. Her father wants Charlotte write a book and go on a lecture tour, and her mom wants to keep her safe, a virtual prisoner in her own home.
But Charlotte is obsessed with the other girl who was kidnapped, who never got a second chance at life–the girl who nobody but Charlotte believes really existed. Until she can get justice for that girl, even if she has to do it on her own, whatever the danger, Charlotte will never be free.
Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in E.K. Johnston’s latest brave and unforgettable heroine.
Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.
In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.
Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.
When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in “the Kool-Aid Kid,” who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.
Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.
But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.
Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?
Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.
Once upon a time, I was a little girl who disappeared.
Once upon a time, my name was not Alice.
Once upon a time, I didn’t know how lucky I was.
When Alice was ten, Ray took her away from her family, her friends — her life. She learned to give up all power, to endure all pain. She waited for the nightmare to be over.
Now Alice is fifteen and Ray still has her, but he speaks more and more of her death. He does not know it is what she longs for. She does not know he has something more terrifying than death in mind for her.
This is Alice’s story. It is one you have never heard, and one you will never, ever forget.
Kendra, fifteen, hasn’t felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can’t remember the most important detail– her abuser’s identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life. To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it’s her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who’s becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra’s abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl’s frightening path to the truth.
Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can make you whole.
When Grace meets Ian she’s afraid. Afraid he’ll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After she accuses the town golden boy of rape, everyone turns against Grace. They call her a slut and a liar. But…Ian doesn’t. He’s funny and kind with secrets of his own.
But how do you trust the best friend of the boy who raped you? How do you believe in love?
A gut-wrenching, powerful love story told from alternating points of view by the acclaimed author of Send.
“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.
The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
In the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault.
Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.
What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.
Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.
It’s been two years since Jeff Hart was kidnapped. Now, his abductor is releasing him to return home. When Jeff finds his family, he feels shell-shocked and unable to tell anyone what happened. He can’t believe any of his family or friends will understand what he has been through.
There are hundreds more YA books about sexual violence, and I wish I could list them all here. If you were moved by a YA novel about sexual violence that’s not on this list, please tell us about it in the comments.
About AFTERMATH by Clara Kensie
Charlotte survived four long years as a prisoner in the attic of her kidnapper, sustained only by dreams of her loving family. The chance to escape suddenly arrives, and Charlotte fights her way to freedom. But an answered prayer turns into heartbreak. Losing her has torn her family apart. Her parents have divorced: Dad’s a glutton for fame, Mom drinks too much, and Charlotte’s twin is a zoned-out druggie. Her father wants Charlotte write a book and go on a lecture tour, and her mom wants to keep her safe, a virtual prisoner in her own home. But Charlotte is obsessed with the other girl who was kidnapped, who never got a second chance at life–the girl who nobody but Charlotte believes really existed. Until she can get justice for that girl, even if she has to do it on her own, whatever the danger, Charlotte will never be free.
Young Adult Books Central Top Ten Books of 2016
Goodreads Most Popular Books Published in November 2016
Children’s Book Review Best New Young Adult Books November 2016
Find AFTERMATH at your favorite bookstore, including:
“Kensie writes a powerful novel about the will to survive under terrifying circumstances and the impact of a kidnapping—and its aftermath .. .The cast of supporting characters is well developed and strong. Give this to readers who love gripping, heart-wrenching tales of hope and survival.” —VOYA Magazine
“Charlotte’s bravery will inspire readers. Her ongoing struggle to confront the horror of what she’s endured rings true, and her recovery process could provide therapeutic reading for rape survivors. Teens who revel in worst-case scenario stories like Natasha Preston’s The Cellar and Kevin Brooks’s The Bunker Diary will enjoy the shocking plot twists.” —School Library Journal
“A gut-wrenching, emotional tale of a teen who is found after being abducted. There’s…also a ray of hope in this story. This makes this book stand out among the others out there. Charlotte goes from being a victim of horrific abuse to a survivor. The ending chapter is perfect. A story of hope and the power of love.” –YA Books Central
“For all of us who have watched the chilling news of kidnapped females rescued and thought ‘There but for the grace of God’ and ‘How do they go on?’…here is the answer fully imagined, exquisitely written, ultimately triumphant. You will cry all the way through this story but you will not put it down.” ~Jennifer Echols, award-winning author of Going Too Far
“Kensie deftly explores what happens after the supposedly happy ending of a nightmare. But nothing is as simple as it seems–not even the truth.” ~April Henry, author of The Girl I Used to Be; Girl, Stolen; and The Night She Disappeared
“A captivating story of self-(re)discovery, Clara Kensie’s Aftermath introduces us to Charlotte, a sixteen-year-old girl trying hard to reclaim her place in a family decimated by her kidnapping four years earlier. Charlotte wants only to catch up to her twin Alexa and live out all the plans they’d made as children, but finds the journey back to ‘normal’ is not only hers to take. Charlotte is a heroine to cheer for…with gut-twisting bravery and raw honesty, she takes us through that journey–back to the unspeakable tortures she endured in captivity and forward to how those years scarred her family, leaving us intensely hopeful and confident that she will not merely survive, but triumph.” ~Patty Blount, author of Some Boys; Send; TMI; and Nothing Left to Burn
“Delving deep into the darkness of abduction and its ‘Aftermath,’ Kensie takes us on an unflinching journey of healing, courage, and triumph of the human spirit. Heartbreaking, yet stubbornly hopeful.” ~Sonali Dev, author of A Bollywood Affair and The Bollywood Bride
“Aftermath is a timely, powerful portrait of hope amid tragedy, strength amid brokenness, and the healing power of forgiveness.” ~Erica O’Rourke, award-winning author of the Torn trilogy and the Dissonance series
“Gripping, powerful, deeply moving, Aftermath is a book I didn’t want to end. It’s written with such compassion that it will help readers heal. A must-read.” ~Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars and Stained
Meet Clara Kensie, author of dark fiction for young adults
…don’t forget to breathe…
Clara Kensie grew up near Chicago, reading every book she could find and using her diary to write stories about a girl with psychic powers who solved mysteries. She purposely did not hide her diary, hoping someone would read it and assume she was writing about herself. Since then, she’s swapped her diary for a computer and admits her characters are fictional, but otherwise she hasn’t changed one bit.
Today Clara is a RITA© Award-winning author of dark fiction for young adults. Her super-romantic psychic thriller series, Run To You, was named an RT Book Review Editors Pick for Best Books of 2014, and Run to You Book One: Deception So Deadly, is the winner of the prestigious 2015 RITA© Award for Best First Book.
Clara’s latest release is Aftermath, a dark, ripped-from-the-headlines YA contemporary in the tradition of Room and The Lovely Bones. Aftermath (Simon and Schuster/Merit Press) is on Goodreads’ list of Most Popular Books Published in November 2016, and Young Adult Books Central declared it a Top Ten Book of 2016.
Clara’s favorite foods are guacamole and cookie dough. But not together. That would be gross.
Find Clara online: