27 books directly related to child abuse 📚

All 27 child abuse books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

The Saddest Girl in the World

By Cathy Glass,

Book cover of The Saddest Girl in the World

Why this book?

Cathy has written many books about children from abuse, but I feel this book resonates with me, as the story of the little girl Donna, is very similar to my own story. Placed in care after being neglected by her alcoholic mother, all Donna really wanted was to be loved. 

I think this really is true with most children who are placed in the social system, the feeling of abandonment and detachment runs deep and we all just want to feel part of something, to be part of a family. 

Many of Cathy’s books are written to explain what can happen and the reality of life, when living in certain situations that many are just not aware of, or choose to ignore. This book is well worth a read, it certainly brought a tear to my eye.


Boy Toy

By Barry Lyga,

Book cover of Boy Toy

Why this book?

Boy Toy is a book that stands out for me because it tackles a rarely discussed subject in young adult literature—the sexual abuse of boys. In this case, the protagonist, Josh, was molested by a teacher when he was younger. Now that he is about to graduate from high school, the repercussions of that abuse, along with the everyday stress he deals with, is coming back to haunt him. Lyga handles this subject matter in an unflinching and realistic way, which can be uncomfortable at times. That said, Boy Toy is definitely a worthwhile, original read.


Fear of the Collar: The True Story of the Boy They Couldn't Break

By Patrick Touher,

Book cover of Fear of the Collar: The True Story of the Boy They Couldn't Break

Why this book?

Fear of the Collar is Patrick Touher’s personal account of his experience in the Artane Industrial School. Artane was the largest Industrial School in Ireland and operated from 1870 – 1969.

At times Artane housed nearly 1,000 boys and was known to be self-sufficient – with the “inmates” making their own clothes, shoes, and the boys produced and grew their own food.

Touher takes the reader through the daily military-like regiment and discipline imposed upon young boys being cared for by the Christian Brothers. His story will evoke an array of feelings. It is important to read the epilogue as you will be in awe of the man Patrick Touher has become despite the harshness of his childhood.


Belonging: A Memoir

By Catherine Corless,

Book cover of Belonging: A Memoir

Why this book?

In her book Belonging: A Memoir of Place, along with her personal journey, Corless shares her research and activism work towards justice for the lost babies of the Tuam Mother Baby Home. Her book is an excellent resource to learn about the institutions where unmarried mothers paid their penance and gave birth to their “illegitimate” children. Her book includes heart-wrenching accounts from former residents. 

I’ve had several exchanges with Catherine since 2010 when she responded to a query I had posted regarding the Tuam Mother Baby Home. Catherine Corless has brought worldwide attention to a scandal she uncovered: 796 missing burial records of children born in the Tuam Mother Baby Home.


Lock and Key

By Sarah Dessen,

Book cover of Lock and Key

Why this book?

You know a book is really good when you reread it. I read this one twice. When 16-year-old Ruby is sent to live with her married older sister Cora after their mother vanishes, she doesn’t know what to expect. She’s neither seen nor heard from Cora since Cora went away to college years earlier. As they fumble their way toward becoming reacquainted, the two sisters discover they’re more alike than they realized. While Ruby is falling for the boy next door, she’s learning to love and depend on the sister she didn’t know. This is a book you’ll want to recommend to your sister or sisters if you have one or more. I did, and my sister Karen loved it too.    


Carrie

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Carrie

Why this book?

Perennial bestselling author Stephen King has written many stories about outsiders, but his first novel, Carrie, is my favorite—maybe because I would have loved to have had a power like Carrie’s when I was in high school, although I wouldn’t have used it in such a gruesome and destructive way. I hope.

Carrie White is a shy, unpopular high school girl with the ability to make objects move by just thinking about them. She has kept her talent bottled up inside her, but when a “mean girl” plays a prank on her at the prom, she unleashes the full fury of her power on the school gym packed full of people—guilty and innocent alike—the town, and her fundamentalist mother.


Find Layla

By Meg Elison,

Book cover of Find Layla

Why this book?

I loved Find Layla and not just because there are a lot of similarities to my own book. Like Mattie, my main character, Layla is the daughter of a single mother and lives a day-to-day existence doing all she can to care for her younger sibling. She is strong, smart, and determined to rise out of poverty even in the face of impossible odds. Elison doesn’t waste words, setting out the reality of Layla’s life in vivid detail and a straightforward style.


The Swimsuit Lesson

By Jon Holsten, Scott Freeman (illustrator),

Book cover of The Swimsuit Lesson

Why this book?

There will be 500,000 babies born in the US this year that will be sexually abused before they turn 18 if we do not prevent it. Child abuse is 90% preventable. 90% of children are harmed by a loved one or family member. This book is for older children ages 8 to 13 years. It has wonderful illustrations and a very important message for children to understand and internalizse.


Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

By Conor Grennan,

Book cover of Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

Why this book?

While volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal, Conor Grennan stumbled across the dark truth that the children he had become close to were not orphans at all. In fact, they had families, and they had been trafficked into institutions that were making a profit from unsuspecting tourists and volunteers like himself...

Brutally honest and humorous at times, this book is a portrayal of the traps that international volunteers can unwittingly fall into. It uncovers a whole ecosystem of exploitation and tells the inspirational tale of the authors’ quest to end orphanage trafficking.


Do You Have a Secret?

By Jennifer Moore-Mallinos, Marta Fabrega (illustrator),

Book cover of Do You Have a Secret?

Why this book?

For children, secrets can be a fun part of life. However, some secrets can be disturbing and even dangerous for a child to keep. Do You Have a Secret helps young children make the distinction between good secrets and bad secrets. Read together with a parent, a child can learn which secrets should not be kept inside, as well as how talking about them can actually help them feel better. This well-written book should be considered essential to a parent’s library of books that increase communication between parents and children. In today’s world, some secrets can be devasting to a child’s emotional health and well-being. Setting the stage for children to talk about them is one of the best things we can do in a world where there are simply too many secrets for children to cope with.


What I Did

By Christopher Wakling,

Book cover of What I Did

Why this book?

Billy’s family gets caught up in the care system when the six-year-old narrator is smacked by his father. An only child surrounded by adults, Billy emulates the talk of others but mishears and repeats language incorrectly with hilarious results. Malapropism sees Billy using the word copulating instead of cooperating, he loves sayings but transcribes them incorrectly giving us a different cuttlefish rather than a different kettle of fish. Through Billy’s voice, readers are securely within the mind of a child. Extended periods of internal monologue and interrupted using an em dash to indicate speech. Questions directly to the reader add to the sense of intimacy created in this fine novel.


Getting Out

By Afton Brinkman,

Book cover of Getting Out

Why this book?

I chose this title because it’s the first story that made me fall in love with this genre. There is a deep sense of authenticity stemming from the reality of finding love after abuse. It helps the reader understand the true emotions of someone navigating through life after years of childhood abuse and trauma. Afton’s writing creates a beautiful story from beginning to end, while bringing the reader on an emotional roller coaster at the same time. This story left an impact on my heart and greatly influenced my writing as an author. 


Flawed

By Kate Avelynn,

Book cover of Flawed

Why this book?

This book hit different than the rest of them. It was a storyline that had heartbreak and suffering happening from so many different angles. It was the first time I realized as an author and as a reader that there could be more to a plotline than just the straight and narrow. I remember going through all the emotions and being hooked in from the first page all the way until the last. The cover drew me in immediately but the story tucked inside has me coming back years later. 


Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

By Chris Crutcher,

Book cover of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Why this book?

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is the reason I am a YA author. When I read this book, I was in recovery from an abusive childhood, and Chris’ authentic way of revealing characters’ trauma told me, “There is a place in the world for stories like mine.” I could write without looking over my shoulder; I could be fearless, true, and validate my own & others’ experiences. In my own book, I write in a raw way what it is like to have a binge-eating disorder and to be scorned for one’s size, because I have BED, felt shameful, and I have experienced such scorn. I possess a determination to not feel obligated to write happy endings, but to always write hopeful endings. I learned that from Chris Crutcher’s books.


Flowers in the Attic

By V.C. Andrews,

Book cover of Flowers in the Attic

Why this book?

This is a book about a mother who hides her children away from her new husband so that she can win an inheritance.

I read the book when I was at an age I believed all mothers loved their children selflessly so the story of a mother betraying her children traumatised me. I sobbed my way through it and recall my younger brother asking me why I just didn’t put the book down if it was making me so sad. It was a question to which to date I have no answer.  Although it was fiction because of the way it touched me, I learnt that sometimes greed can make people justify anything. 

I would recommend it for being very emotive! And if one needs a good cry.


Elizabeth and After

By Matt Cohen,

Book cover of Elizabeth and After

Why this book?

I was moved by the profound look into a young man’s grief and guilt and confusion that Canadian author Matt Cohen offered us in this, his last novel. Carl’s mother is dead, killed at the age of 51 in a car accident for which Carl is (mostly) responsible. After the funeral, Carl fled. Now, three years later, he’s back in his hometown, population 684, attempting to start over and reconnect with his seven-year-old daughter. It’s a long, hard fight for redemption in a town where the habitants—a grand cast of them—have long memories of who Carl was and what he did. Matt Cohen died a few weeks after the book won the Governor General’s Prize for English-Language Fiction.


Harrow Lake

By Kat Ellis,

Book cover of Harrow Lake

Why this book?

One word: Mr. Jitters. After her filmmaker dad is attacked and nearly killed in New York City, Lola Nox is sent to live with the grandmother she’s never met in an eerie town called Harrow Lake, the shooting location of her dad’s most iconic horror movie. But Harrow Lake is a sinister little town full of strange legends and the locals seem determined to keep it that way. With disappearances that the police shove under the rug and now a ghostly presence that has started following her everywhere, Lola is about to meet the thing that keeps this backwater little town in its firm, creepy grip. This novel reminded me of everything brilliant in The Babadook and Mr. Jitters might even give him a run for his money. 


If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

By Gregg Olsen,

Book cover of If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

Why this book?

If You Tell by Gregg Olsen is a true evil event where he explains the story of a kind and loving mother as described by her community; but they failed to see the evil that Shelly Knotek was torturing and murdering her friends and relatives for the fun of it, while her three daughters watched in horror. Abused by their parents, the sisters watched the victims begging for their lives as their mother tortured them for the fun of it in cold blood, murdering them. The sisters were frightened that they might be next to die at any moment in the hands of their mother, found the strength to tell others the horrible acts committed by her. Based on the direct evidence from the sisters, their mother was sentenced to prison. Later, the sisters provided a detailed description to the author of how they witnessed the deaths of their friends and relatives.


Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

By Steven Mintz,

Book cover of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Why this book?

Your schoolbooks left them out, but young people are American history makers and they have been so for over 300 years. Huck’s Raft presents the way children shaped the American experience and how their lives evolved over time. You’ll meet young people here from the seventeenth-century port cities to the nineteenth-century slave plantations to the Depression-era hobo camps and on to the end of the twentieth century. It’s history you need to know and will have fun learning.


We Sang You Home

By Richard Van Camp, Julie Flett (illustrator),

Book cover of We Sang You Home

Why this book?

There is no greater joy than when a new baby comes into our world. We Sang You Home is a simple yet profound little book that depicts the poignant connection between a child and their parents, even before the child is born. The story also beautifully illustrates how love helps us grow and makes us all better. This is an important book that will spark sweet, gentle dialogue between parents and their child, to reinforce that every child is precious, wanted, welcomed, and loved.


Abused To Death 1

By Jessica Jackson,

Book cover of Abused To Death 1

Why this book?

Like my own book, Abused To Death, is very hard-hitting and often harrowing, as Jessica writes about the most chilling cases of child abuse like Baby P and Sylvia Likens, in a bid to raise awareness for a subject that is very personal to me. 

Jessica’s delicate approach to giving these children a voice, even in death, is incredible. She writes from a fictional child's perspective and somehow manages to tackle some very difficult stories, with the respect that is deserved. The stories she writes about are brought to life in a very interesting and gripping way.

Just by reading this book, you can tell an incredible amount of research has gone into this book and is well worth a read.


An Obedient Father

By Akhil Sharma,

Book cover of An Obedient Father

Why this book?

A dark story about a corrupt man, An Obedient Father unfolds in a closely observed world. From page one: “It was morning. The sky was blue from edge to edge. I had just bathed and was on my balcony hanging a towel over the ledge. The May heat was so intense that as soon as I stepped out of the flat, worms of sweat appeared on my bald scalp.” The close sensory detail makes a dark story shockingly intimate.


Orbiting Jupiter

By Gary D. Schmidt,

Book cover of Orbiting Jupiter

Why this book?

This young adult novel is a love song from a teenage father to the child he’s never met. He yearns toward her. He wrestles with the consequences of his past decisions. He wants a future that he can never have. I can’t tell you how much I saw myself, a middle-aged mom, in delinquent protagonist Jack. This book is real and visceral and doesn’t pull any punches, but the most important thing it does is remind us that the twin of grief is love. 


The Home for Unwanted Girls

By Joanna Goodman,

Book cover of The Home for Unwanted Girls

Why this book?

I think I’ll be recommending this book to people until the end of time. It’s just so, so good.

What I love most about it is it brings a forgotten part of history to life: a time when orphanages in 1950s Quebec misdiagnosed children as mentally ill to qualify for the better funding allocated to psychiatric hospitals. An obscure moment in history, generations of family scandals and secrets, and a forbidden love story? Yes, please.


Invisible Girl

By Sandra J. Dixon,

Book cover of Invisible Girl

Why this book?

The younger the victim, the more egregious the act seems. This true story is a riveting read. Dixon repressed childhood incest memories until, ironically, she became a nurse helping others with similar pasts. The book is an insightful look at how hidden pain manifests itself in our current lives regardless of what walls the mind has erected to protect us. Woven into the memoir is helpful advice for survivors, counselors, lawyers, and others working with abuse victims. I was mesmerized.


The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

By Alex Marzano-Lesnevich,

Book cover of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir

Why this book?

Marzano-Lesnevich was a Harvard law student working a summer internship when they encountered the case of Ricky Langley, who was being held on death row in Louisiana. That case opened up a personal wound for the author, and they vividly and powerfully intertwine the two stories. The author uses speculation and imagination to attempt to fill in blanks that are unanswerable. I recently taught this book in a seminar at Columbia on creative license in nonfiction, and my students were floored. 


Stolen Girl

By Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch,

Book cover of Stolen Girl

Why this book?

I love all of Marsha Skrypuch’s YA books. Page-turning plots, engaging characters, inspired by real events. Her novels focus on Ukrainian and Polish young people’s experiences under both Hitler and Stalin. This one stands out to me, first because of the cover and secondly, because of the author’s ability to wrench my heart. The novel focuses on a young Polish girl, deemed Aryan enough, so she can be raised in a Nazi family. It was a story that opened my eyes. These horrendous things happened to innocent kids.