February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, which is an opportunity for libraries to highlight resources that can help teens identify the warning signs of problematic relationships and to see what healthy relationships can look like. These books can start conversations and perhaps even make a difference in the lives of teens.
Dating Violence, Rape, and Sexual Assault in Young Adult Literature
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2000 Printz Honor Book)
This novel is a classic for a reason. Melinda, a freshman in high school, is a social outcast because of an incident that happened over the summer, and she doesn’t speak to anyone. Though fifteen years old, the story doesn’t at all feel dated, and many teens can relate to Melinda’s struggles with fitting in and finding her voice. With unflinching honesty, Anderson writes about the aftermath of rape.
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Remy was a popular girl, until a boy she had a crush on—who happened to be the son of the Sheriff—raped her. When she accuses him, she’s relentlessly bullied, even more so because she doesn’t conform to what people expect of victims. This book is an indictment of rape culture.
Lily and Taylor by Elise Moser
There is a lot of truth in this novel that will make many readers uneasy and uncomfortable. Taylor has internalized abuse so deeply that she thinks she deserves it. Lily has become a keen observer of people so that she may anticipated and attempt to diffuse abusive situations. When they’re forced to go to a cabin with Taylor’s boyfriend and another boy who owes him a favor, they go into survival mode. This book pulls back the curtain on ways of living some would rather not have to see. The characters are living in poverty, on the margins, without a social safety net, but Moser has done a great job of depicting two reactions to a lifetime of abuse and how the cycle continues from generation to generation. Harrowing, but an excellent treatment of the topic.
Fault Line by Christa Desir
In this novel, Ben’s girlfriend attends a party without him — and she’s raped by multiple boys. There are lots of young adult novels that deal with the aftermaths of sexual assault from a survivor’s point of view, and many of them are excellent. Desir takes a different approach with Fault Line and tells the story from Ben’s first person perspective. Not only is his voice compelling and authentic, Desir’s portrayal of the pain and frustration of not knowing how to help someone you love work through their trauma and the guilt of believing you could have prevented it are heart-wrenching. While the writing makes for a quick read, the book raises questions that require thoughtful contemplation and could serve as the basis of discussion of slut shaming, rape culture, bullying, victim blaming, and other important issues. Desir’s expertise shows in her nuanced and realistic portrayal of rape and its aftermath.
Bitter End by Jennifer Brown (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
Many of these novels depict the aftermath of dating violence or sexual assault, but this novel shows how a new relationship can seem so romantic at first, but escalate through the cycle of violence as the abuser becomes increasingly jealous, emotionally manipulative, and physically violent. Jennifer Brown is a popular author with fans of realistic YA and this novel is a solid choice for a discussion on dating violence and healthy relationships. Continue reading Booklist: Dating Violence, Consent, and Healthy Relationships in Young Adult Fiction