If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you may have picked up on the fact that I like to read for escape. In fact, there’s a series about books to read to run from your problems that I started last year and will likely continue at various points throughout the year as I come up with additional books to include. This post is a little different because this post is for all the times that I want a book that fits my mood when I want to burn the world down. In the words of the very brave Kyle Stevens, “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women who destroy your world.” I have been reading more books about sexual assault and harassment in YA that I thought I would share my thoughts about in one place. I’m focusing here exclusively on the sexual assault/harassment aspects so that when you’re in the mood for a rage read, you have one to turn to. If you have any questions about the books or you need additional content or trigger warnings, please let me know.
1. Exit, Pursued by a Bearby E.K. Johnston
Johnston wrote this book after getting mad at a politician over a comment implying that a young woman’s rape was her own fault. Infuriated, Johnston wrote this book to more or less portray the ideal way that the world would progress when a teenager is raped. That said, this idealized version of the world is not sanitized, in my opinion. You still see Hermione’s boyfriend being kind of shitty, mostly before the assault, and you see Hermione being sort of slut shamed for having condoms in her suitcase (as part of her boyfriend’s joke). I thought this book was amazing when I read it and I definitely still do. I also think Johnston and I are in agreement when we say THIS IS NOT HOW THE WORLD WORKS. We just want it to be.
2. Bad Romanceby Heather Demetrios
I have reviewed this book in full, wherein I discussed how this book is a great example of intimate partner violence in teen relationships. I’m not sure if I mentioned it that post or not, but one of the things that happens in this book is sexual coercion (no, not legal coercion). This book is the closest my own #MeToo experience has ever been captured. Well, one of them, anyway. It also expresses a #MeToo experience of a few of my friends. What I love about this in terms of the Me Too movement is that it really is a book about intimate relationships gone wrong. As something that happens too often to be continuously swept under the rug, I was a huge fan. This book meant so much to me so I would definitely recommend it. Just make sure you’re okay to make it through the content!
3. Moxieby Jennifer Mathieu
This book is an interesting one because in the lead up to it, I kept getting the impression that it was going to deal a lot with sexual assault and I was excited. When I read the book, I realized that wasn’t exactly correct. This book deals a lot with sexual harassment and throws in a little sexual assault. What I appreciate about this book is that it does talk about things that is super relatable, I think, to a lot of high school students. What I was less fond of was how Feminism 101 it was. That said, this book is meant for teenagers and teenage Jenica? High school Jenica? She really needed this book, like omg. Ya girl didn’t discover the concept of feminism for real until freshman year of college. Yeah. So, this book is important, but not quite what I thought.
I really want someone to write a book like this one though, but where there’s a Title IX complaint and people start coming forward and revealing how high schools continuously sweep gender discrimination under the rug. But that’s because I’m a law nerd… Anyway…
4. Saints and Misfitsby S. K. Ali
Sexual assault in the Muslim community almost definitely needed to be written by an own voices author and thank goodness S. K. Ali stepped up to the plate because she knocked it out of the park. (For a girl who doesn’t like baseball, I can’t stop making baseball analogies. MAKE IT STOP.) Janna struggling to take her voice back while having to face the Monster and navigating various other aspects of being a teenager was an incredible read. In many ways, I felt that this book was a more realistic and still hopeful read, in the vein of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, but also, this book is dark. It’s funny because the cover is so gorgeous and it looks like it should be a happy book. And maybe finding your voice is enough to make something happy… Regardless, I appreciated this book for portraying sexual assault from a Muslim teen perspective because we don’t see that in literature often (ever?) and for portraying religion as an important part of Janna’s life. I really appreciated seeing that. I know religion is important to so many teens and it’s weird how it often gets ignored. This book was one of my favorite reads of 2017. Highly recommend.
5. Done Dirt Cheapby Sarah Nicole Lemon
If you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably like, omg, I get it. This book is the one that had me really wanting to set the world on fire and start over again. I’m not sure why, exactly, because honestly, the portrayal of sexual assault in this book is not fully present. It’s that the attitudes of men in this book and the way that the abusive creep is abusive and creepy just really set me off. It’s also probably that this book might as well be set in my hometown. Done Dirt Cheap absolutely blew me away and made me want to change the world. This book is about a motorcycle gang leader’s daughter and a girl that is sent by abusive creep to spy/infiltrate the gang. This book is so good and so important and I just want everyone to read it. It was also a favorite of 2017.
6. The Female of the Speciesby Mindy McGinnis
And here we have Alex, the girl who just straight up murdered her sister’s murderer. That’s not a spoiler; it’s how the book begins. Alex is the vigilante I cheer for in super hero shows (Black Canary, anyone?) but in this contemporary world was like, WTF ARE YOU DOING, HONEY? And that’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s why this book gets you thinking. This book really wrestles with rape culture in a way that I think some of the books on this list start to and then shy away from. The end result of some of the behavior in Moxie is ultimately that some boys will feel entitled to women’s bodies and will rape them. In The Female of the Species, McGinnis tackles that head on. The fact that this book is set in a small town (in Appalachia, I think?) made the way that this happened that much more realistic to me. Although I didn’t drink in high school (and wasn’t “cool” enough to be invited to those parties), I know that there are a ton of people who did. I also know that there are/were men who had graduated anywhere from one to ten years ago and were still hanging out with high schoolers. I feel like I’m getting side-tracked, but the point is, The Female of the Species is probably the darkest book on this list and murder aside, feels remarkably realistic. I would definitely recommend.
And a bonus nonfiction read, Hunger by Roxane Gay, ripped my heart out and discusses a lot of issues related to sexual assault that I feel like don’t often get discussed, including but not limited to how frequently sexual assault and eating disorders coincide. For a bonus adult book, you could try What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera, which features a main character who was sexually abused as a child and is now in prison for something. The book is beautifully written but also extremely twisted so use caution if you select this book as your rage read. And for an HEA with past sexual coercion, you could try The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare. This book is light and delightful, but does touch on a heroine’s less than fluffy past. But it’s a great book to restore hope and as a reminder that your life is not and should never be defined by sexual assault and that you deserve happiness and joy.
I have many more books on this topic that I intend to read, including The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, which I’ve heard nothing but good things about, and The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Please feel free to send me additional recommendations below.