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In My Mailbox: Looking for Middle Grade Fiction that Deals with Sexual Violence

I often get emails and comments in regards to The #SVYALit Project asking about Middle Grade titles that deal with sexual abuse and violence of pre-teen kids. And each time I get a question, I go looking for some great recommendations. I have even tried to ask author and Middle Grade champion Anne Ursu and she too has had a hard time coming up with some good examples. She found this great list, but it is short on Middle Grade fiction as well.

One of the titles, however, that gets mentioned frequently is I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This by Jacqueline Woodson. I read this title a long time ago, and it is written with a beautiful tongue, as all Jacqueline Woodson novels are. And it is, of course, heartbreaking. The topic is heartbreaking.

“Death happens,” Woodson told Samiya A. Bashir in Black Issues Book Review. “Sexual abuse happens. Parents leave. These things happen every day and people think that if they don’t talk about it, then it will just go away. But that’s what makes it spread like the plague it is. People say that they’re censoring in the guise of protecting children, but if they’d open their eyes they’d see that kids are exposed to this stuff every day, and we need a venue by which to talk to them about it and start a dialogue. My writing comes from this place, of wanting to change the world. I feel like young people are the most open.” (from Woodson’s Wikipedia page)

The brief publisher synopsis reads like this: Marie, the only black girl in the eighth grade willing to befriend her white classmate Lena, discovers that Lena’s father is doing horrible things to her in private.

As two girls become friends, the other begins to realize that one of them is being sexually abused by her father. The process of getting to know one another and share these types of secrets, and then what do you do once you know the truth, is covered with sensitivity and grace.

“When I took these things from the house:
some tapes, some books, my winter clothes,
I did not know that these would become the
things I own.”

Jacqueline Woodson, I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This 

Lena’s story is continued in the follow-up title, simply Lena. In this, Lena and her little sister run away from her father and are searching to find safety, they hope, by seeking out their mother’s relatives. But being a runaway with no money is dangerous, but these girls will go to great lengths to try and find a safe place to lay their head.

“It seemed like someone was always leaving someone, like that’s the way the world worked—people were born and people died, people left and people came. It was like the world was saying you can’t have everything you want at the same time.”
Jacqueline Woodson, Lena 

Woodson is a fabulous and gifted author and she has written eloquently on this topic, you’ll definitely want to read these. And if you know of more middle grade titles that can help adults talk about these tough subjects with middle grade readers, please leave us a note in the comments.

In addition to the topic of sexual violence, Woodson tackles inter-racial friendships, racism and discrimination, runaways, poverty, and more. Definitely check them out.


  1. Thanks for this important post! It's good to know that at least some material for middle grade on this subject exists, and I will definitely keep these in mind for the future.

  2. I need to read some Jacqueline Woodson! This post is just what I needed. I went and got I HADN'T MEANT TO TELL YOU THIS off my shelf!

  3. After you read this, I highly recommend you read If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson. One of the most beautiful books.

  4. I really wish there was more for this age group as it sadly happens far more than we read about in MG lit.

  5. Melissa Miles says

    It’s been over two years since this post was written, and I was wondering if there are MG titles now that deal with sexual abuse. Thanks in advance.

    • I just signed a contract with a small publisher for an MG novel that deals with sexual abuse. It was so very important for me because I saw the need and had the voice and experience to write it. I’m glad that librarians are actively looking for books like this to fill the gap. Thank you for this post!


  1. […] article from 2018, “Beyond “No Means No”: Resources on Consent“, and a Teen Librarian Toolbox article from 2014 spotlights two works by Jacqueline Woodson that can fall into either middle grade/middle school or YA. Author Barbara Dee writes about her […]

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