Sexual Violence in YA Lit | SLJ Spotlight

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Share these recently reviewed YA titles and resources with teen readers.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Share these recently reviewed YA titles and resources with teen readers.


Desir, C. Fault Line. 226p. S & S/Simon Pulse. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442460720; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442460744. LC 2012039167.

Gr 9 Up –High school senior Ben is busy working on getting a swimming scholarship, dealing with life at home as his father transitions to a new job, and looking out for his younger brother. The teen’s life takes a quick and dizzying turn when he falls for Annika, the hot new girl at school. Ani’s sexy quips and artsy, adventuresome spirit dazzles Ben, and the connection and chemistry between them grows the more time they spend together. Ben misses a fateful party, while she goes alone with her friend Kate. The next day, he’s at the hospital, waiting as Ani gets prepped for a rape kit. Ben and Ani’s lives descend rapidly into a nightmare as she reacts to the firestorm of ugly rumors and Ben becomes obsessed with finding out what happened that night. The novel is a grim take on the horrible ramifications of date rape, which impacts not only the victim but all those around her. Similar to Steven Levenkron’s The Best Little Girl in the World (Contemporary Bks., 1978), author and rape-victim activist Desir is clearly knowledgeable about this important subject. However, the choice to tell Ani’s story from the perspective of an outsider does not help readers understand her or other survivors. Instead, teens’ experiences will mirror Ben’s own helplessness and frustration as he tries, and fails, to help his girlfriend. A grueling, if unfortunately timely, read.–Evelyn Khoo Schwartz, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

Frank_DimeredstarFrank, E.R. Dime. 336p. S. & S./Atheneum. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481431606; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481431620.

Gr 9 Up –Thirteen-year-old Dime is a product of the foster system. She finds an escape in the books she reads, but she struggles academically because she is called on to help out with the younger foster children at home. One day she meets a girl who takes her in. Dime finds acceptance here, but is slowly groomed into becoming a prostitute. The book takes the form of a note that Dime is trying to write, whose purpose is unclear until the last chapters. The multiple nested flashbacks and the attempts to have other concepts contribute to the note (such as Money or Truth) much as Death narrated Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006) (Dime herself credits Zusak for this idea) would have failed at the hands of a lesser writer, but they are effective here. The simple, one-line note that the protagonist ultimately writes is heartbreaking. The conditions in which Dime and the other trafficked girls live are horrendous and difficult to read about; however, this novel serves to illustrate that small acts of kindness can make a difference. This title will appeal to fans of grittier problem novels, like those written by Ellen Hopkins, and will provoke discussion. In spite of the gritty content, there is good reason to make this title accessible to middle schoolers as well. There is a helpful resource list in the back matter, including information for victims and survivors of trafficking. VERDICT An important work that should be an essential part of library collections.–Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Hartzler_What We SawHartzler, Aaron. What We Saw. 336p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Sept. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062338747.

Gr 9 Up –Kate got wasted. Stacey got wasted. Kate left early. Stacey was raped, or so she claims. Kate can’t remember much about the party, save from the growing flirtations with her childhood friend Ben. It’s hard to focus on anything but their budding romance even when the whole school is sharing pictures and gossiping about Stacey’s “behavior” at the party. But Kate is forced to come out of her love bubble once four of her classmates are charged with sexual assault and dissemination of child pornography. The whole town seems to comes to the boys defense—but Kate can’t help but begin to push aside the town’s shared preconceived notions and look closer. Devastatingly reminiscent of the 2012 Stuebenville High School rape case, Hartzler’s first YA novel explores how a small, tight-knit community reacts when student athletes are accused of rape. The author has delivered an important, powerful, and engrossing read that gives readers a lot to consider. The book managed to resist a preachy feel while still asking tough questions about consent, the media, and how society puts victims on trial. Kate serves as a relatable and realistic reader surrogate as her emotions, questions, and conclusions progress throughout the story. VERDICT A gripping narrative that begs to be discussed.–Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. JohnstonredstarJohnston, E.K. Exit, Pursued by a Bear. 256p. ebook available. Dutton. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101994580.

Gr 9 Up –Palermo Heights is known for two things. One, its phenomenal cheerleading team, and two, a supposed streak every year that sees one student die and one student get pregnant. As team captain, Hermione Winters is determined to see that tradition broken. Yet after a sexual assault takes place at camp, she is forced to reconcile her goals with her new reality and decide what course her life will take. Competitive cheerleading provides a unique and compelling backdrop to this take on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. There are no caricatures, only well-drawn, strong female protagonists and caring but believably flawed adults. The repercussions that the incident have on her relationships are realistic but occasionally seem to provide a best-case scenario to how people interact with victims of rape. Most notably, the friendship between the main character and her fierce best friend is a constant source of strength and humor. Hermione’s story traces her reactions to a sexual assault in a nuanced fashion that confronts the horror but doesn’t dwell in its shadow. Throughout the book, the setting in a tiny Canadian town and the protagonist’s hyper focus and dedication to her sport lend realism to the text. VERDICT A beautifully written portrait of a young woman facing the unthinkable, this is a must-buy for high school collections.–Erinn Black Salge, Saint Peter’s Prep, Jersey City, NJ

Asking for It by Louise O'NeillredstarO’Neill, Louise. Asking for It. 304p. ebook available. Quercus. May 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681445373.

Gr 10 Up –Proud, gorgeous, vain—at 18, Emma O’Donovan is the “It” girl of her small Irish town. She dreams of passing her leaving exams in a year, going to college, marrying a rich man who can finally buy her what she deserves, and living happily ever after. Then she takes a pill from a boy at a party. Emma wakes up the next afternoon, dumped on her parents’ doorstep with her dress on backward, no underwear, and no recollection of what happened after she kissed her best friend’s boyfriend, but the pictures posted on Facebook and SnapChat tell the full story in lurid, shockingly graphic detail. Overnight, she is renamed “Easy Emma” and slut-shamed as the rumors circulate about what happened that night: Was she really drugged and raped by four boys, or was she asking for it? O’Neill’s powerful novel digs into deep questions about rape culture that are difficult to read but essential to consider. Sensitive teens may have a hard time reading about the protagonist’s downward spiral. Her shame and self-loathing are contradicted by what the rape counselor tells her (“It’s not your fault”) and are confirmed by what she hears from the town (“You are destroying those poor boys’ lives”). VERDICT More graphic and grim than Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, this UK import nonetheless is an important read for mature teen audiences.–Leighanne Law, Scriber Lake High School, WA

The Way I Used to Be by Amber SmithredstarSmith, Amber. The Way I Used To Be. 384p. ebook available. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481449359.

Gr 9 Up –Eden is a quiet band nerd and a freshman when her brother’s best friend, Kevin, rapes her. Eden’s entire life is changed from that moment. Life no longer makes sense. She believes Kevin’s threats and doesn’t tell anyone what happened. The next four years of her life are shaped by that night in large and small ways. Eden struggles to relate to her best friend and most of her other acquaintances. The teen experiments sexually in an attempt to gain control, but her inability to relate and connect create a dangerous cycle she must confront in order to move on. Smith tells Eden’s story in four parts: freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year. This is a poignant book that realistically looks at the lasting effects of trauma on love, relationships, and life. While the rape is discussed, it is not graphic, allowing for a wider readership. Teens will be reminded of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. VERDICT An important addition for every collection.–Cyndi ­Hamann, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

#SVYALit: ALL THE RAGE and rape culture, Trish Doller interviews author Courtney SummersredstarSummers, Courtney. All the Rage. 320p. ebook available. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250021915.

Gr 9 Up –Romy Grey lost her friends, including best friend Penny, and all high school social status when she accused the local sheriff’s son of rape. But then she and Penny go missing the night of the annual senior party, and Romy is found on the side of a road the next morning with no memory of what happened. She has to try and reconcile life as the ostracized girl who is found when the beloved girl is still lost, while dealing with the lasting trauma of her assault. In a society that too often seeks to place blame on the victim, Summers’s book offers a deft and timely examination of the aftermath of rape in a small town where corruption and power trump justice. “You can’t deny you were attracted to him,” the sheriff says in one of the book’s flashbacks, before commenting on the teen’s state of inebriation at the time and her clothing (“short skirt, skimpy shirt”). The dynamics between Romy and other characters, such as her supportive mother and new stepfather-figure, and her out-of-town diner coworker and love interest Leon (whom she doesn’t tell about the rape), are well written. Romy is complex and likewise developed well as the story progresses; readers will feel for her as she grapples with her most vulnerable moments and see hope in her times of strength. Not all loose ends are tied up by the end, and the book is more powerful for it. VERDICT Readers will be drawn into this moving story set in small-town America. Essential for libraries serving high school students.–Amanda Mastrull, Library Journal

Adult Books 4 Teens

redstarKrakauer, Jon. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. 384p. bibliog. ebook available. notes. Doubleday. 2015. Tr $28.95. ISBN 9780385538732.

Amid the opportunities offered by the newfound independence of college is the chance to make new friends. Like most freedoms, this independence involves risks. For two of the girls in Krakauer’s latest, the risks seemed typical of college life: party hard and then pass out. But as these girls lay in a semi-comatose state of inebriation, they were raped. They were raped by football players. This second fact makes everything much harder, from the odds of fighting off a strong attacker to the courage it takes to make an accusation that could affect the performance of the football team. The author makes his way through this highly charged topic with typical equanimity; yes, some girls do make false accusations, and truthfully, a community will protect football players to a degree beyond reason. But the focus continually returns to the lives of the young women. Even when armed with evidence from rape kits and testimony of witnesses, they are often accused of “asking for it” by lying unconscious on a couch, or by not screaming for help. Some young men and women never quite recover from the ordeal of testifying in court and then living with the subsequent verdict. Krakauer evenly relates the aftermath of this horrible crime. VERDICT Recommended for male and female high school seniors—to increase their understanding of consensual sex and the consequences of rape.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library


definingsexualassualtredstarDefining Sexual Assault. 34 min. w/36-page PDF guide. Dist. by Human Relations Media. 2016. $179.95. Streaming rental $24.95. ISBN 9781627060776.

Gr 9 Up –This is yet another excellent self-help and empowerment program by the distributor. Three post-college survivors of sexual assault tell their stories while giving definitions of sexual assault and consent, talking about options for the victim after the assault, and providing ways to empower survivors. Social workers also offer input, particularly in describing what friends, roommates, and relatives can do to help victims. In the final part, risk reduction and bystander intervention are discussed. Throughout, there is emphasis on the assault not being the survivor’s fault. It is also stressed that while there are precautions that can be made to limit chances of sexual assault, risk cannot be completely eliminated. Additionally, the promotion of bystander intervention encourages men and women to develop skills in diffusing situations so that they don’t escalate into sexual violence. The survivors here are personable and will relate well with the audience. A teaching guide is also included with a film summary, a variety of activities, and fact sheets. VERDICT Because of its focus on bystander intervention, this video should be shown in all high schools.–Ann Brownson, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL

Online Resources

How Librarians Can Help Fight the Culture of Slut-Shaming by Karen Jensen

SVYALit Project Index — Teen Librarian Toolbox

Booklist: Nonfiction, Memoirs, and Resources on Teen Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Rape – The Hub

When Talking About Sexual Consent, YA Books Can Be A Parent’s Best Friend : NPR

Julie Murphy and Aaron Hartzler Chat About Self-Image, Media, and Their New YA Titles

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