April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. To highlight the widespread nature of this issue and our need to talk about it, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite young adult books about sexual assault.
As you can tell by the site’s tagline, and by spending any amount of time here, I love to talk about books and feminism. Something I’m really passionate about is spreading awareness about rape culture and promoting education to prevent it.
Because of deep-seated beliefs about women and sexuality, as well as ideals of toxic masculinity, sex is often viewed as violent, and violence as sexy. Not only so, but when women are sexually active or are assaulted, they often experience slut-shaming and victim-blaming. This vicious cycle promotes harmful ideas that hurt and oppress women, girls, and femmes.
Though the vast majority of victims of sexual assault are women and girls, and men the vast majority of perpetrators, this isn’t always the case. Not only so, but trans people and other members of the LGBTQIA+ community experience this at a much higher rate.
That being said, today I’m focusing on titles that discuss the ways in which rape culture affects women, femmes, and girls. Each handles sexual assault in which teen girls are victimized. They are part of a nuanced and much needed conversation about rape culture and the ways we silence and disbelieve women, femmes, and girls. Without further ado, here are some of my favourite young adult books about sexual assault.
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
Emma O’Donovan is the “it” girl at her high school in the small community of Ballinatoom, Ireland. She’s thin, pretty, and the Queen B. One night there’s a party the whole school is there. Emma is interested in one of the guys in attendance and she gets into an unspoken competition for his attention. In doing so, she gets put into a difficult situation.
The next day she’s woken by her mother. Emma has been unconscious on the porch and is very sunburnt. She doesn’t remember how she got there. She doesn’t remember what happened to her. Soon she learns exactly what went down — because there are tons of pictures online. But “boys will be boys.”
In Asking for It, Louise O’Neill deftly explores the realities of rape culture combined with social media culture. She refuses to sugarcoat things. This is a stark read, but it’s worthwhile.
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Romy Grey knows the truth about the sheriff’s son, Kellan. Everyone thinks he’s a great guy with a bright future. But Romy knows that he can be a monster. Telling the truth about that, however, has cost her almost everything.
Soon rumours start circulating about Kellan assaulting another girl. Should Romy stand up again even though it hurts? Or can she bare the thought of others being hurt because she didn’t?
Summers’ explores all the ways rape culture pervades our society, and the stark reality of what it’s like to be a teenage girl in a world that hates you.
The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
At the beginning, Eden is an innocent fourteen-year-old girl. Then something terrible happens to her in her own home. In her own bed. She’s too scared to tell anyone what happened to her. She hardly understands it herself.
As the days, months, years pass by with her saying nothing, we see the way this terrible event impacted her life and spread through her decisions, her actions, her mind. It shows us that not all survivors have the same responses and that sometimes what we think they should do is not something that’s realistic in the moment.
The Way I Used to Be is a portrayal of the devastating effect sexual assault can have on a person and even those around them. Not only so, but the effect silence has on women and girls.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This is the YA classic that deals with sexual assault and depression. At the beginning of Freshman year, Melinda knows it’s not going to go well for her. At the end of the previous school year, she called the cops and busted up a big party. No one knows why she did it, but she’s now the butt of jokes, the girl everyone avoids and makes fun of. Even her best friends from middle school.
No one knows what happened to Melinda, and it takes her a while to come to terms with it herself. Not only so, but she has to face the boy who did it everyday because he goes to her school. Through her pain, depression, and healing, her art class is an outlet for her. After this happened to her, Melinda stopped speaking. She’s not mute, but she doesn’t talk a lot. This event made her feel like she didn’t have a voice. Throughout the book, she finds her voice again.
What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler
This book takes a different perspective. Here, the survivor is not the main character. Instead, the main character is Kate, a girl who was at the party when another was assaulted. Based on the Steubenville rape case, What We Saw dissects the prevalence of rape culture and the importance of speaking up.
One night, Kate is at a popular guy’s party. On the following Monday, her classmate Stacey doesn’t show up for school and the rumours fly. Soon pictures start circulating of Stacey. She passed out at the party and is unconscious in the photos. But there are also guys in the photos…
Kate wants to know more about what happened at the party. Was her best childhood friend Ben there? If he was, why didn’t he stop it or say anything? What We Saw tackles the ways in which we are all complicit in the perpetuation of rape culture.
Rape culture is not inevitable.
Sexual assault is preventable.
No one is ever asking for it.
The victim is never to blame. The rapist is.
“Boys will be boys” is garbage. Boys should be held accountable for their actions.
The onus for assault prevention is not on victims. It’s on rapists to just not rape people.
Someone who is unconscious cannot consent.
A lack of a no does not mean yes.
For more information:
National Sexual Violence Resource Center — Sexual Assault Awareness Month information.
RAINN — Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network — sexual assault statistics.
RAINN — Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network — After sexual assault.
Beth O’Brien is a library assistant and book blogger. Born and raised in Atlantic Canada, she lives in picturesque Nova Scotia with her cat Edith. You can often find her rocking double denim with her nose in a book and a craft beer in her hand. Follow her on Twitter @fuelldbyfiction.