**DISCLAIMER: Trigger warnings for mentions of rape and abuse in this post**
Based on the title of this post, you may feel that this seems like a heavy & dreary topic to discuss. Let me explain: I want to talk about these books for a couple of reasons. Firstly because I just started a new job at a non-profit that provides free services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and trafficking. In honor of that, I have decided to discuss some books that deal with some of these issues specifically. Also I have a handful of “bookish buzzwords” if you will, where I will basically instantly buy a book if certain words are in the description, reviews, etc. of said book. Again, as morose/sadistic as it sounds, rape and sexual assault are buzzwords for me as a reader. This is due to very personal reasons, and I have a personal vested interest in seeing more books published that discuss rape culture in different ways and perspectives. I would love to work for a publishing company one day, and plan to (I hope) get a Masters degree in publishing with an emphasis on books that are about rape culture in some way.
For all of the reasons I just talked about, I have a personal yearly reading goal to read at least 5 books a year that talk about rape culture. Here are some books based on my research and what I’ve read. Not all of them are favorites or 5 or even 4 star reads, but I decided to include as much as possible so that you would have lots to choose from and can form your own opinions.
I have decided to break this down by genre, because the nonfiction books are SO different than the fiction ones in their goals, styles, and content.
- Hunger – Roxane Gay: This book absolutely blew me away. I listened to the audiobook of this, which is narrated by the author herself, and that made it feel all the more personal. When I decided to read this, I thought it was just about Roxane’s food journey; how she gained her weight, how she deals with negative judgments about her, why she got into writing, etc. I had no idea that she was raped as a child, and that that was the event that shaped her in SO many ways for the rest of her life. It changed her sexually, psychically, it affected how she loved others, her eating habits, her opinions of herself, her mental health, and SO much more. I just related to this on so many specific levels. It’s like I was hearing about myself as I listened to this. And she does not hold back – she lets readers know all of the horrible things she and others thought about her. She’s also now at a point in her life where she is unapologetic for who she is, so that is refreshing to know that her journey doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, but at least does uphill. Roxane is a very personal writer, but also a very talented one.
- Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town – John Krakauer: THIS ONE. An excellent comprehensive study regarding current rape culture. Krakauer is so good at researching as long and deep as it takes to get into the heart of the matter, which isn’t surprising considering this isn’t his first bestselling nonfiction book. You will be angry at the justice system while reading this one though.
- Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do About It – Kate Harding: This one, like “Missoula,” is another one that’s good because of the research it contains. If you want facts and data, or a history of rape culture, this is your book. It presents everything in a very powerful, and I’ve referenced a lot when arguing/debating with people.
Young Adult Fiction:
- Exit, Pursued By A Bear – E.K. Johnston: I think this is a pretty decisive book; people either love it or they hate it and there’s just a lot of varied opinions on this book out there. I personally really enjoyed it. It’s just such an interesting take on the survivor’s story, with the focus being on how her friendship with her best friend, Polly, helps her heal after she is raped. It shows what a great support system can do in these situations. And while it isn’t entirely realistic how supportive everyone is to Hermione, it’s uplifting. As a survivor myself, I don’t always want to read the sad version of this story, as accurate as that may be. Sometimes I want the the survivor characters to have justice, a good support system, and to heal in the end. Because I’m living vicariously through characters when I read and so it’s sort of a cathartic experience. Also having the story end as well as it did for her makes this book an example of how a survivor’s family, friends, and classmates should act if they know someone who has been sexually assaulted.
- The Way I Used To Be – Amber Smith: This one definitely isn’t my favorite book on this list. It’s the opposite of “Exit, Pursued By A Bear” in that the friends and parents of the MC in this book are absolutely TERRIBLE. The parents especially. Like, right after Eden is raped (literally that same night), her mom comes in and sees blood on the bed and that Eden is in the middle of a panic attack, but assumes she just started her period. Even though her daughter is clearly trying to get her attention to tell her something, AND she watched a boy LEAVE HER ROOM EARLIER. smh. The book just fails to be as emotional as it could be, and instead has these “shocking” or “jarring” moments for effect. Just because a book deals with a hard topic and a lot of shit happens in said book doesn’t mean it’s automatically good. I think it does an okay job of showing how being raped, especially so young, can literally change someone’s personality completely. I seem to be in the minority in my opinion of this book, so I suggest you check it out and figure it out for yourself.
- Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson: This was one of the first books that I ever read that dealt with this topic at all. I think for that reason I put it on a pretty high pedestal. While the main character makes it difficult to get into this book, the way she handles her situation and what as happened to her (by not speaking) completely makes sense and is well done by the author. A lot of trigger warnings for this one… it’s pretty freaking heavy.
- Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake: Ashley is in my top 10 favorites authors and she is an insta-buy for me too. She has been since before this book even came out. And then I read this and was just so in awe. It’s intricate and complicated. It’s hard to read a lot of the time. But it’s just so well done. It tackles the tough situations that females face in life, and even more important it takes a look at how far our beliefs can be pushed. It’s about the judgments that come at a victim/survivor from people in all areas of their life. It’s a painful book to read, but so very well done. It definitely forces you to question things because of the perspective it is told from, and take a good hard look at our culture.
- Wrecked – Maria Padian: This may be my least favorite book on this entire list. But I’m including because it has an interesting perspective: the POVs are from the roommate of the survivor, as well as the close friend of the rapist. I think it tries to do what Girl Made of Stars did, but it was definitely not as successful. I thought it was good to get this story from a different angle, but still one that didn’t question if she was raped or not. They believed her, that wasn’t the “problem.” The book instead is considering methods of rape prevention in college campuses and how to create a less toxic environment. It doesn’t end on a perfect/ideal note for the survivor – which is VERY MUCH true to reality – but it does have a clear ending/consequence.
- All The Rage – Courtney Summers: Just a freaking good book. Well written and haunting, and proves so many points about rape culture today. It’s a heartbreaking yet realistic book. And sometimes the most poetic moments of it are the ones that hit you in the gut the hardest. like this quote: “…he covers her mouth. That’s how you get a girl to stop crying; you cover her mouth until the sound dies against your palm.” Like… Jesus. But I highly recommend this one. Seriously.
- Some Boys – Patty Blount: Literally see above, it’s a VERY similar book to “All The Rage” and also very good.
- Any Man – Amber Tamblyn: I’ll just say it: this book is trippy. To the point where it made me uncomfortable in multiple instances. One thing I want to say first that is very important about this book is that it is about a female rapist attacking men. That is something I have literally never seen in another book. Good on Amber Tamblyn for deciding to tackle this, because it is a serious issue. If you think people look down on and don’t believe females who are raped, it seems even more true for men who are raped. I was pleasantly surprised by Amber’s writing chops – she writes in multiple different styles but seriously packs a punch in this. What happens to these men will make you cringe, and this feeling is only exaggerated by Amber’s inclusion of prose, poetry, IM chats, and more. Her actual language and word choice also is 100% in attack mode with lots of cursing and vivid imagery, so be prepared for that.
- The Deal – Elle Kennedy: The only straight up romance book on this list, and with good reason! in my opinion, it seems like it would be very hard to write a romance book that involves a rape story, be it in the character’s history/background, or if it happens while the story unfolds. Because once you add that element, how can it possibly still be romantic? Well this one is. Hannah is a junior in college in a northeastern town, and she is going to school far away because she needs to get away from her terrible town that is treating her & her parents horribly after Hannah is raped by the town’s “golden boy.” She’s having trouble sexually after this experience (completely understandable and relatable) and so she strikes a deal with a guy at her school. Honestly, this book is what made me want to go into publishing for books about rape culture. Because it was so weirdly nice to read a story where the MC was a sexual assault/rape survivor, but that wasn’t what the book was ABOUT… if that makes any sense. It was a romance between her and Garrett, but she had this thing happen to her in her past. It was a big part of her and her story and choices, but it didn’t define her or the book. And while I think that some of the other books I’ve mentioned here (the biographies, ya lit, studies, etc.) are all good and important, I believe it’s also important for readers – especially those who have lived those experiences too – to read other kinds of stories too. Then they can find themselves in other books and characters.
- The No You Never Listened To – Meggie Royer (poetry): The most impactful book of poetry I have ever read. I was so moved by each of Meggie’s poems that I actually reached out to her on her Tumblr blog and thanked her. It’s real, raw, emotional, and beautiful. She manages to capture the random staccato emotions I sometimes have when some random thing in the world will trigger me, or when a bad memory hits me out of nowhere. Those bursts of anger and then the sobbing fits and that feeling of believing that you are dirty. All of was encapsulated in her poems, which is impressive because the poems – and the book itself – are not long.
- Things We Haven’t Said – Erin Moulton (misc. stories, journal entries, poetry): Every piece in this book is written by an actual survivor, and that somehow makes it both more powerful and sadder at the same time. Powerful because the stories of overcoming and learning how to be strong again and cope were encouraging. Sad because I can’t believe how many people have had such terrible things happen to them. I’m glad for these people that they have an outlet though.
I’ll probably do another post with a bunch of books on this topic in the future as I read more of them. Also feel free to take a look at my “rape culture” shelf on Goodreads HERE.