The best books about childhood sexual abuse

3 authors have picked their favorite books about childhood sexual abuse and why they recommend each book.

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The Courage to Heal

By Ellen Bass, Laura Davis,

Book cover of The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

Thirty years ago, as I struggled through devastating childhood memories, I discovered The Courage to Heal. This book helped me to not feel so alone in my journey. For a long time, I carried this book with me like it was a Bible. The validation and support I received from the content of shared stories and supportive information felt “life-saving.” Over the years, this important body of work has helped thousands of women and continues to help and support survivors across the globe. 


Who am I?

As a nurse, survivor, intuitive, and healer, when ministering to the sick, the injured, the traumatized, and the dying, I saw, sensed, and gained a deeper understanding of who we are as human and spiritual beings. I also witnessed the emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological scars trauma leaves on survivors. How can we hold onto hope during challenging times? We need to expand our consciousness about the inhumanity that exists in our world. Stop saying, “How can that be? I don’t believe it.” We are on a human and spiritual journey to who we are. Stories are told to heal, to inform, to own our truths, and to offer hope. 


I wrote...

Hattie

By Anna Bozena Bowen,

Book cover of Hattie

What is my book about?

Hattie, a multi-award-winning novel, is a compelling first-person narrative that begins with Hattie’s death. In spirit, Hattie finds a newfound freedom, discovers her voice, and reveals both the harrowing and miraculous truths of her life. Through her storytelling, Hattie takes the reader on an intimate journey as she courageously delves into the strata of her existence. Hattie is one woman. Hattie is every woman. Hattie is a mystical and very human experience. 

When You Know What I Know

By Sonja K. Solter,

Book cover of When You Know What I Know

This lyrical novel-in-verse tells the story of fifth-grader, Tori, whose uncle does something bad to her on the couch in the basement of her house. The story begins immediately after the incident, which is described very obliquely, and beautifully captures Tori’s shock, shame, anger, and profound sense of brokenness. Adults who should listen to her and help her don’t always come through, and Tori’s shame also causes her to pull away from her closest friends. But slowly, with the help of her mom, her little sister, and her teacher, Tori begins to speak up. I thought Sonja Solter beautifully captured Tori’s grief, her retreat to silence and smallness, and her gradual, incremental healing process. I especially loved Tori’s relationship with her little sister and how it evolves.


Who am I?

In That’s What Friends Do, the #MeToo experience that Sammie’s mom shares with Sammie is my story. I was thirteen. I never told anyone. Even as I started writing my novel, it didn’t occur to me to share with my husband, or my teenage children, my experience. But one evening, as the #MeToo movement was exploding in the media, I was sitting around a dinner table with several other couples. All of the women had had a #MeToo experience. Most of us were young teens when it happened. Shame and guilt had kept us silent for far too long. My novel – and the others on my list – are working to break through that silence.


I wrote...

That's What Friends Do

By Cathleen Barnhart,

Book cover of That's What Friends Do

What is my book about?

Samantha Goldstein and David Fisher have been friends ever since they met on their town’s Little League baseball team. But when a new kid named Luke starts hanging out with them, what was a comfortable pair becomes an awkward trio.

Luke’s flirting make Sammie feel uncomfortable—and David so jealous that he decides to make a move on the friend he’s always had a crush on. But things go all wrong and too far, and Sammie and David are both left feeling hurt, confused, and unsure of themselves, without anyone to talk to about what happened. As rumors fly around the school, David must try to make things right (if he can) and Sammie must learn to speak up about what’s been done to her.

American Daughter

By Stephanie Thornton Plymale, Elissa Wald,

Book cover of American Daughter: A Memoir

What I loved most about this book was the determined persistence of the author to rise above the negligence and abandonment she suffered in childhood to become a decent, functioning, compassionate adult, one who ultimately takes the time to understand her mother’s history. Stephanie Thornton Plymale had every reason to walk away from her damaged mother and never look back, but she doesn’t. I love that she found the courage and empathy to move beyond her own difficult past to understand her mother’s history. I was riveted by this compelling, beautifully crafted book.

Who am I?

We all have obsessions in life and one of mine has been my mother and the great love and enmity that ricocheted between us for fifty-seven years. Throughout the decades, my mother went from protector to controller to betrayer to ogre to human to an elderly woman in my care. The love and hate, distance and intimacy, estrangement, and reconciliation that we experienced made me a lifelong student of the mother-daughter bond. I‘ve written about my mother for more than 30 years, and love reading mother-daughter stories, not saccharine sweet ones, but complex multi-layered dramas where there’s no villain and no hero—just two humans struggling to love and understand each other.

I wrote...

The Burning Light of Two Stars: A Mother-Daughter Story

By Laura Davis,

Book cover of The Burning Light of Two Stars: A Mother-Daughter Story

What is my book about?

When she published The Courage to Heal in 1988, Laura Davis helped more than a million women work through the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. But her decision to go public with her grandfather’s incest deepened an already painful estrangement with her mother, Temme.

Over the next twenty years, from a safe distance of 3,000 miles, Laura and Temme reconciled their volatile relationship and believed that their difficult past was behind them. But when Temme moves across the country to entrust her daughter with the rest of her life, she brings a faltering mind, a fierce need for independence, and the seeds of a second war between them. As the stresses of caregiving rekindle Laura’s rage over past betrayals, they threaten her intention to finally love her mother “without reservation.” Will she learn what it means to be truly open-hearted before it’s too late?

Edinburgh

By Alexander Chee,

Book cover of Edinburgh

I’m a huge fan of Alexander Chee’s writing across the board, and it was a toss-up between this and his revelatory book of essays, How To Write An Autobiographical Novel. But Edinburgh is the first novel of his I’d ever read. The craft of it is impeccable. The sentences are sharply honed, beautifully built. Under that craft is a chasm of loneliness, the story of someone seeking to find their footing in a world destabilized by past trauma and current shame, and the ways in which intimacy can rescue us from ourselves – briefly – while never quite transforming the core of who we are. I’ve read this book a few times, each time in a different city. And each time, the book reminded me gently: wherever you go, you are still who you are. It’s up to you to decide to what extent your history will define you.


Who am I?

I’m a playwright and novelist born in the US and raised in a grab-bag of other countries. I grew up moving between cities and languages, and now, as an adult, I move between different modes of artistic practice. My first book, The Island Dwellers, is an interlinked story collection set partially in the US and partially in Japan and my second book begins with someone fleeing NY for LA; perhaps one of the impulses I understand most is to abandon ship and start over. I’m compelled by stories in which people seek to transform themselves or to refashion their lives. I think it takes a great daring (and a great desperation) to do either. 


I wrote...

We Play Ourselves

By Jen Silverman,

Book cover of We Play Ourselves

What is my book about?

Not too long ago, Cass was a promising young playwright in New York. But after Cass finds herself at the center of a searing public shaming, she flees to Los Angeles to reinvent herself. There she meets her next-door neighbor Caroline, a magnetic filmmaker on the rise, as well as the pack of teenage girls who hang around her house. They're the subjects of Caroline’s next semidocumentary movie, which follows the girls’ clandestine activity: a Fight Club inspired by the violent classic. 

Cass becomes troubled by how deeply Caroline is manipulating the teens in the name of art. With her past proving hard to shake and her future one she’s no longer sure she wants, Cass is forced to confront what she has come to believe about the price of fame.

The Part That Burns

By Jeannine Ouellette,

Book cover of The Part That Burns

Once again, I felt I’d found an author who read my diary. In this odyssey through memory, Jeannine Oullette recalls the painful past and the many ways in which trauma shaped her life. As I savored each vignette, I found myself also reading with urgency, eager to find the deeper meaning. It is thought-provoking and emotionally layered. Not a linear story, The Part That Burns deftly describes Ouellette’s life as a victim of sexual abuse and neglect, but never leaves the reader with a heaviness too great to bear. For me, this book was not so much a story as a flower to be plucked petal by petal.


Who am I?

Growing up, my mother refused to acknowledge that my stepfather sexually abused me for many years. I was forced to call him “Dad” and I was told to “forgive and forget.” It took me decades to understand that while I could teach my mind to deny my pain and grief, trauma stayed embedded within my heart and shaped my life, relationships, internal beliefs, and decisions. After a triggering event, it ultimately morphed into depression, which I’m now battling in my forties. Having written two memoirs on the impact of trauma, I am only now finding the wisdom and courage to distance myself from my mother and stepfather. The books I’ve recommended have brought me comfort and a sense of relief. 


I wrote...

Petals of Rain: A Mother's Memoir

By Rica Keenum,

Book cover of Petals of Rain: A Mother's Memoir

What is my book about?

Taking a girl's voice is the same as taking her power. Petals of Rain is a memoir about love and loss, secrets and lies. The story follows a mother navigating motherhood and womanhood – an abuse survivor emerging and learning to speak, to scream, to sing to her own wounded heart, and to finally understand what it takes to be whole after breaking to pieces. 

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This

By Jacqueline Woodson,

Book cover of I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This is one of my favorite novels for its subtlety. It's almost like sleight of hand because you aren't sure where to look. The story kind of unfolds all around you. One of the hardest things after a sexual assault is opening up to someone about it, so I am a fan of books that give people a blueprint of how to go about it. There is no single right way to tell someone about abuse and assault, but it helps to have examples. 


Who am I?

I fell in love with reading in fourth grade but felt like real girls weren't reflected in young adult books. The characters had friend problems and boy problems, but books about really big problems like sexual assault were rare because most people thought subjects like addiction and abuse weren't appropriate for young readers. It's one of those weird dichotomies: we know kids deal with big problems, but we're afraid to broach the subject. I used books to help me understand stuff I didn't feel comfortable talking about so I appreciate books that show people how to claw themselves out of a bad place and be their own hero.


I wrote...

The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy

By Marie Jaskulka,

Book cover of The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy

What is my book about?

Forgotten Girl, a fifteen-year-old poet, is going through the most difficult time of her life – the breakup of her parents, and her mom’s resulting depression – when she meets Random Boy, a hot guy who, like her, feels like an outcast and secretly writes poetry to deal with everything going on in his life.

In The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy, the couple’s poems come together to tell their unique love story. The two nameless teenagers come from opposite sides of the tracks, yet they find understanding in each other when they lay bare their life stories through the poetry they write and share with each other. Finally they have someone to tell and somewhere to tell it in their marble notebook.

When Rabbit Howls

By Truddi Chase,

Book cover of When Rabbit Howls: A First-Person Account of Multiple Personality, Memory, and Recovery

Gaining a deeper connection to and awareness of self—mind, body, heart, and spirit—was significant to my healing journey from childhood sexual abuse. Chase’s deeply moving autobiography is a powerful, profound, and painful story of survival, about how she recovered her memories and coped with childhood sexual, emotional, and physical abuses by splitting off into many personalities, known as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). Over my nursing career, I was blessed with opportunities to work with survivors and privileged to hear many women’s stories. In 1990, When Rabbit Howls found its way onto my bookshelf. After many decades, it still holds a significant role in validating the experiences many survivors hold and educating society about the effects of trauma on our minds, bodies, hearts, and spirits.


Who am I?

As a nurse, survivor, intuitive, and healer, when ministering to the sick, the injured, the traumatized, and the dying, I saw, sensed, and gained a deeper understanding of who we are as human and spiritual beings. I also witnessed the emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological scars trauma leaves on survivors. How can we hold onto hope during challenging times? We need to expand our consciousness about the inhumanity that exists in our world. Stop saying, “How can that be? I don’t believe it.” We are on a human and spiritual journey to who we are. Stories are told to heal, to inform, to own our truths, and to offer hope. 


I wrote...

Hattie

By Anna Bozena Bowen,

Book cover of Hattie

What is my book about?

Hattie, a multi-award-winning novel, is a compelling first-person narrative that begins with Hattie’s death. In spirit, Hattie finds a newfound freedom, discovers her voice, and reveals both the harrowing and miraculous truths of her life. Through her storytelling, Hattie takes the reader on an intimate journey as she courageously delves into the strata of her existence. Hattie is one woman. Hattie is every woman. Hattie is a mystical and very human experience. 

Marrow

By Tarryn Fisher,

Book cover of Marrow

I am a long-time Fisher fan, and I love all of her books, but this one really spoke to me. So much pain and brutality trapped inside one girl makes you think of many different scenarios, none of which are what happens. Fisher creates amazing stories with fascinating twists and turns, but this one tops the cake. Gripping and graphic to the point that you forget you are reading fiction. I love unhappy and open endings that make you think and question what you just read; this one just might be my favorite. 


Who am I?

I grew up with a single mother, lots of siblings, and little money. Books were my escape from reality. My love for reading began at an early age, back in the Babysitting Club days. I started writing as a girl but never thought it was something I would show other people. I kept my nose stuck in any book I could get my hands on, my favorites have become psychological thrillers. After spending decades in the medical field, I decided that it was time for me to write again. Once I completed my first novel and sent it out to agents, I quickly learned that I was right where I needed to be. 


I wrote...

Capability

By Leigh M. Hall,

Book cover of Capability

What is my book about?

One, a single act of brutal violence almost ends Melany's life. She now suffers through a grueling recovery. Lost and spiraling out of control, she begins to withdraw from life. The disfigured face and body she now carries start to create a personality of its own. She wonders if she will ever be able to move on. The monster that did this to her remains a mystery; she fears he may come back to finish her off.

Melany may seem like a timid housewife to some. The monster changed something inside her. After so much has been taken from her, she decides it's time to take some of it back. With a taste for revenge, darkness takes over. It has her doing things she thought she'd never be capable of.

In the Name of the Children

By Jeffrey L. Rinek, Marilee Strong,

Book cover of In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent's Relentless Pursuit of the Nation's Worst Predators

This is an excellent reading about a former FBI agent not giving up on their search to find predators. I truly honor this agent for how he never gave up on the search. From my former experience as a Special Agent with The Drug Enforcement Administration, the writers did a thorough job to focus on how the FBI Agents unselfishly dedicated long investigative hours to target the predators of children. The writers described how the FBI agent’s moral beliefs and his dedication to helping the sexually abused children; perseverance, and creative innovative investigative techniques that enable him to find the predators.

Who am I?

As an educator and author of many books, I was asked to write a book about the spiritual journey of a DEA agent with two PIs. They were determined to end a notorious Cartel organization operating along the U.S. Southwestern border. For over five years the two Private Investigators (PI) and DEA Agent Larry Hardin prepared the case for prosecution. The case hit one roadblock after another when presented to five different U.S. Attorneys for prosecution. The books listed below will appeal to similar customers and show connections of the criminal underworld and how the judicial system function’s; finding a way to bring them to justice. News junkies, historians, and true crime enthusiasts will enjoy reading these stories told by those who investigated the activities. 


I wrote...

Path of the Devil: Camino del Diablo

By Dianne DeMille, Larry Hardin, Jeffrey Pearce, Randy Torgerson

Book cover of Path of the Devil: Camino del Diablo

What is my book about?

Path of the Devil: Camino del Diablo is a story of true events that occurred 1991-1996. DEA Agent Larry Hardin and two private investigators, Jeff Pearce and Randy Torgerson, were determined to bring down the Meraz organization along the southwestern border. For five years the three men spearheaded two separate, and simultaneous investigations in different locations that eventually merged.

Jeff and Randy provided information to Larry to build his case when they found the Meraz’s were working with corrupt employees of their California client. The Meraz’s attempted to murder two DEA agents (1970s) and were connected to the murders of Kiki Camerena, George Montoya, Paul Seema, Jose Montoya, Dan Elkins, and Michael Crowe. Larry was determined to indict the Meraz’s.

The Color Purple

By Alice Walker,

Book cover of The Color Purple

In the mid-1980s, as a more soulful voice was emerging in my writing, a friend gave me her copy of The Color Purple. Walker’s novel is about relationships and the struggles and triumphs of black women who loved deeply and continued to see beauty in their world even as they survived terrible abuses. I was drawn to Walker’s writing, the rhythm of Celie’s simple candid voice, and the unique way this novel delivered a powerful heartfelt story. Reading The Color Purple encouraged me to trust in my creative writing style. As my voice, my intuition, and my connection to Spirit grew deeper and more profound, so did my writing. I was so moved by Walker’s novels that I think of her as a mentor.


Who am I?

As a nurse, survivor, intuitive, and healer, when ministering to the sick, the injured, the traumatized, and the dying, I saw, sensed, and gained a deeper understanding of who we are as human and spiritual beings. I also witnessed the emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological scars trauma leaves on survivors. How can we hold onto hope during challenging times? We need to expand our consciousness about the inhumanity that exists in our world. Stop saying, “How can that be? I don’t believe it.” We are on a human and spiritual journey to who we are. Stories are told to heal, to inform, to own our truths, and to offer hope. 


I wrote...

Hattie

By Anna Bozena Bowen,

Book cover of Hattie

What is my book about?

Hattie, a multi-award-winning novel, is a compelling first-person narrative that begins with Hattie’s death. In spirit, Hattie finds a newfound freedom, discovers her voice, and reveals both the harrowing and miraculous truths of her life. Through her storytelling, Hattie takes the reader on an intimate journey as she courageously delves into the strata of her existence. Hattie is one woman. Hattie is every woman. Hattie is a mystical and very human experience. 

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