Booklist: Dating Violence, Consent, and Healthy Relationships in Young Adult Fiction

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.

Teen Dating Violence,Sexual Assault, Rape,& Healthy Relationships in Young Adult Fiction

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

Crossovers: When Is It Rape?

The girls says she didn’t want to have sex. The guys says she was all over him. The girl says she was drugged. The guy says she was drinking heavy all night. Maybe there is evidence that the girl had sex with the guy, or maybe there isn’t. She says rape, he says no way. Who is right?

missoulaPopular nonfiction author Jon Krakauer investigates the issue in Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.  Missoula is home to the University of Montana, devoted to their Grizzly football team. Thus Krakauer weaves the magical protection afforded to football players who are accused of rape. The stories of two college girls who name football players as their rapists form the main narrative threads of the book. It would be a cautionary tale for the college-bound, but the lessons remain clouded by the biases of the media and the college’s investment in its football team. Obvious important issues, such as the ability to give consent when semi-conscious, are brushed aside with some variation of, “She asked for it.”

speakLaurie Halse Anderson dives into the painful emotional aftermath of rape in her 1999 debut novel, Speak. High school freshman Melinda is rolled inside herself after she is raped by a popular older boy at a summer party. Her immediate instinct – call the police – resulted in the party’s break-up. While everyone knows that Melinda called the police, they believe it was to purposefully end the party. Melinda herself is so traumatized that she can’t even speak. Anderson’s deeply moving and disturbing novel won her accolades, winning one of the very first Printz Honor Book awards in 2000. Through Melinda, readers learn that the validity of a rape claim is too often judged by the accuser’s physical attractiveness and social standing. A hot and popular guy would not need to have sex with a lowly freshman, thus her accusation must be based on Melinda’s own wishful thinking.

luckiest girl aliveA recent novel published for adults considers the potential for long-term consequences of rape. The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll introduces the somewhat despicable Ani when she is twenty-eight years old. An unapologetic snob, Ani is all about appearances; impressive job, expensive clothes, and a desirable, rich fiance. Readers quickly realize that Ani is compensating for her internal torment, a sense of worthlessness tied to events in youth. In alternating chapters, Ani returns to her fourteen-year-old self, attending a prestigious high school where she attempts to fit in with the popular crowd. It is not a happy time. The novel is dark, dealing with damaged sexuality in ways that many teen readers would find disturbing. But it clearly illustrates the trauma of rape as it may resonate throughout a victim’s life. Continue reading Crossovers: When Is It Rape?