Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: I’m in a Bad Romance, books about abusive relationships

February is not just about romance, it is also a month dedicated to raising awareness about teen dating violence.  One study indicated that 25% of 8th and 9th graders reported that they had been victims of dating violence.  Here are some YA lit titles on the topic to help raise awareness and start discussions.

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Publisher’s Annotation: When Alex falls for the charming new boy at school, Cole — a handsome, funny, sports star who adores her — she can’t believe she’s finally found her soul mate . . . someone who truly loves and understands her.

At first, Alex is blissfully happy. Sure, Cole seems a little jealous of her relationship with her close friend Zack, but what guy would want his girlfriend spending all her time with another boy? As the months pass, though, Alex can no longer ignore Cole’s small put-downs, pinches, or increasingly violent threats.

As Alex struggles to come to terms with the sweet boyfriend she fell in love with and the boyfriend whose “love” she no longer recognizes, she is forced to choose — between her “true love” and herself.

Karen’s note: I don’t think you can ever go wrong with Jennifer Brown when it comes to thoughtful contemporary fiction that makes you think about current issues, and this is no exception. 

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

Publisher’s Annotation: Wake up, Caitlin

Ever since she started going out with Rogerson Biscoe, Caitlin seems to have fallen into a semiconscious dreamland where nothing is quite real. Rogerson is different from anyone Caitlin has ever known. He’s magnetic. He’s compelling. He’s dangerous. Being with him makes Caitlin forget about everything else–her missing sister, her withdrawn mother, her lackluster life. But what happens when being with Rogerson becomes a larger problem than being without him?

Karen’s Thoughts: I am a huge fan of Sarah Dessen and this was the first book by her I read.  It is so well done.  I recently heard Dessen speak and she said that she has received mail from teen readers saying that they wished that she had kept Rogerson and Caitlin together, which is of course disturbing. 

Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

Publisher’s Annotation: Like father, like son.

Intelligent, popular, handsome, and wealthy, sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas is pretty much perfect — on the outside, at least. What no one knows — not even his best friend — is the terror that Nick faces every time he is alone with his father. Then he and Caitlin fall in love, and Nick thinks his problems are over. Caitlin is the one person who he can confide in. But when things start to spiral out of control, Nick must face the fact that he’s gotten more from his father than green eyes and money.

Karen’s note: This book is not an easy read, but it is an important one.  It really captures the emotions involved in the issues.

Rage: A Love Story by Julie Ann Peters

Publisher’s Annotation: Johanna is steadfast, patient, reliable; the go-to girl, the one everyone can count on. But always being there for others can’t give Johanna everything she needs—it can’t give her Reeve Hartt.

Reeve is fierce, beautiful, wounded, elusive; a flame that draws Johanna’s fluttering moth. Johanna is determined to get her, against all advice, and to help her, against all reason. But love isn’t always reasonable, right?

In the precarious place where attraction and need collide, a teenager experiences the dark side of a first love, and struggles to find her way into a new light 

Karen’s notes: Unfortunately, this is not a title I have read yet, but it appeared on a lot of recommended lists so I am including it.

Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder

Publisher’s Annotation: Rae’s always dreamed of dating a guy like Nathan. He’s nothing like her abusive stepfather—in other words, he’s sweet. But the closer they get, the more Nathan wants of her time, of her love, of her…and the less she wants to give.

As Rae’s affection for Nathan turns to fear, she leans on her friend Leo for support. With Leo, she feels lighter, happier. And possessive Nathan becomes jealous.

Then a tragedy lands Rae in the ICU. Now, hovering between life and death, Rae must find the light amid the darkness…and the strength to fight for life and the love she deserves.

Karen’s notes: You can read my review here

Have more titles to add to our list?  Please leave a comment.  We love book recommendations!


  1. Good list! I have only read Breathing Underwater, but have Bitter End on my TBR at home right now. Here are a few more:

    Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
    Stay by Deb Caletti
    But I Love Him by Amanda Grace

    Not quite the same but very good for abuse/cyber-exploitation:
    Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

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