The best books on domestic violence

4 authors have picked their favorite books about domestic violence and why they recommend each book.

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Why Does He Do That?

By Lundy Bancroft,

Book cover of Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

When I was in my abusive marriage, I spent days/weeks/years wondering WHY my husband acted the way he did. Was it my fault? Lundy Bancroft answers these questions better than any other. 1. Abusers like being in control. 2. They are convinced that it is OK to treat you badly. 3. Most of all, they get what they want by their abusive behavior. 

The clarity I gained from this book was amazing.


Who am I?

I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 20 years but didn’t realize what was happening to me. I tried to twist myself into a perfectly shaped pretzel to make my husband happy. It didn’t work. Reading some of these books gave me the courage to seek a restraining order and divorce my husband. Since then, I became a domestic violence advocate, author, blogger, and mental health counselor. 


I wrote...

A Journey Through Emotional Abuse: From Bondage to Freedom

By Caroline Abbott,

Book cover of A Journey Through Emotional Abuse: From Bondage to Freedom

What is my book about?

In my abusive marriage, it wasn’t until my husband became physically abusive that I started really looking at what was happening to me. I moved from wondering why he was angry all the time to realizing I was being abused. I wrote this book to help others through the hard road I had to travel: seeking help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, lawyers, police, and my church.

I describe my journey with the court system, social services, getting a restraining order and seeking full custody of my kids. I help readers think through the hard questions: Should I leave? How could I do it safely? What will my friends/family/church say? What is best for my kids? Having someone who has been through it themselves walk alongside you is invaluable.

What I Did

By Christopher Wakling,

Book cover of What I Did

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.

Who am I?

Novelist, poet and scriptwriter. My interest in young narrators stems from a desire to effectively capture the voices of children in my novels. Creative writing PhD studies with the University of South Wales encouraged me to research different strategies and techniques used by published authors and to experiment with them in my writing. The String Games my debut novel was the result of this academic and creative journey. Further novels continue to include young voices in a starring role as I get inside the heads of a range of characters. After a stint as a university lecturer, I dabbled in fiction for children and through a collaboration with illustrator Fiona Zechmeister, Pandemonium a children’s picture book was published in 2020.


I wrote...

This Much Huxley Knows: A Story of Innocence, Misunderstandings, and Acceptance

By Gail Aldwin,

Book cover of This Much Huxley Knows: A Story of Innocence, Misunderstandings, and Acceptance

What is my book about?

I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up. Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?

Funny and compassionate, This Much Huxley Knows explores issues of belonging, friendship, and what it means to trust.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

By Chris Crutcher,

Book cover of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

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.


Who am I?

I always used food to cope with painful feelings, and I developed Binge Eating Disorder as a child. As an adult, I was in therapy to deal with traumatic stuff, and I lost 100 pounds. I finished therapy with a whole new set of tools with which to navigate the world, but I still regained the weight and started hating myself again. I said, “Whoa. Time-out. I am worthy of love. That has not changed, so why do I hate myself again?” That is what I explore in Big Fat Disaster: what is our worth, and why should that worth depend on what we look like? 


I wrote...

Big Fat Disaster

By Beth Fehlbaum,

Book cover of Big Fat Disaster

What is my book about?

Insecure, shy, and way overweight, Colby hates the limelight as much as her pageant-pretty mom and sisters love it. Dad's a superstar, running for office on a family values platform. Then suddenly, he ditches his marriage for a younger woman and gets caught stealing money from the campaign. Everyone hates Colby for finding out and blowing the whistle on him. From a mansion, they end up in a poor relative's trailer, where her mom's contempt swells. A cruel video of Colby half-dressed finds its way onto the internet. Colby plans her own death. A tragic family accident intervenes, and Colby's role in it seems to paint her as a hero, but she's only a fraud. Finally, threatened with exposure, Colby must face facts about her selfish mother and her own shame.

Harm Done

By Ruth Rendell,

Book cover of Harm Done: An Inspector Wexford Mystery

Rendell’s Inspector Wexford is so real that one reader wrote to the author, begging her to kill Wexford’s wife so she could marry him.

I’ve read all the Wexford books but this was the one that stood out for me. 

It’s a complex plot that involves kidnapping, a paedophile, a riot in which a policeman is burned to death, domestic abuse, and a cold-blooded murder. 

Something for everyone!


Who am I?

I’ve been reading crime fiction all my life. I love following the detective sifting through the evidence—the clues, the false trails, and the eventual denouement. It was a crime fiction book that made me realise that history is not fixed but is, in fact, detective work. It changes as more evidence is discovered or a new interpretation is accepted. That book made me decide to take history as my subject at university and I spent six deliriously happy years examining evidence, evaluating it, and, reaching conclusions. Amongst my case studies were the princes in the tower, the gunpowder plot, and witchcraft. Happy days!


I wrote...

A Gift for Murder: A Tommy Ross mystery

By Jenny Twist,

Book cover of A Gift for Murder: A Tommy Ross mystery

What is my book about?

In the 1990s Oxford’s dreaming spires become a killer’s secret playground. It begins when Joshua finds the girl shivering in the stream, clutching a severed hand. Then he is plagued by the same nightmare—someone is coming through the corn, getting closer, eager to kill.

This is Tommy Ross’s first murder case and he has no idea how to solve it. How do you find a killer when you can’t even find the body? 

Ghost, Volume 1

By Jason Reynolds,

Book cover of Ghost, Volume 1

Eleven-year-old Castle Crenshaw, the protagonist of Ghost, reminds me a lot of my protagonist Solo Hahn in Avenging the Owl. Both boys “have a lot of scream inside.” Castle suffers from PTSD because he’s witnessed so many fights between his parents. His family has one heck of a total meltdown when his father threatens to shoot him and his mother, and they have to hide in a convenience store. Castle finds adult mentors and begins to run track, which helps him to deal with anxiety and depression. Running cross-country and track saved me, as well; I still run half-marathons today. I love the messages going on in this book about the importance of finding trustworthy mentors, and the equal importance of honoring a passion such as running. 


Who am I?

As a kid, I read constantly. After my beloved mother left my abusive father and came out as a lesbian, a homophobic judge took me and my siblings--one of whom has Down syndrome--away from her. Reading was an escape. I loved weekends when I could leave my father’s house near Los Angeles and visit my mother who had a backyard full of trees and gardens. My parents argued constantly but as long as I could grow plants and observe birds, I was okay. Eventually, I moved to Oregon and volunteered to care for owls. I wrote Avenging the Owl to show that in the middle of family meltdowns, kids can turn to the natural world for comfort and inspiration.

I wrote...

Avenging the Owl

By Melissa Hart,

Book cover of Avenging the Owl

What is my book about?

How would you feel if your depressed father made you move away from your perfect life in a Southern California surfing town to a trailer in Oregon, an hour away from an ocean so cold the fish freeze? What would you do if your mother turned into a hippie and traded the family Corvette for a purple Volkswagen bus? 

This is what happens to 14-year-old Solo Hahn. When a Great-horned owl steals the only friend Solo has left, he commits a crime that earns him community service at a raptor rehabilitation center where he's forced to clean up bird poop and feed dead rats to his sworn enemies . . . owls. Will Solo survive his family’s total meltdown? And why is there bird poop on his best surfing shirt?

Girls & Boys

By Dennis Kelly,

Book cover of Girls & Boys

Adapted from a one-woman performance at the Minetta Lane Theater by the talented stage actor Carey Mulligan, Girls & Boys is a gripping and sometimes painful examination of domestic violence. The writer Dennis Kelly, who is acclaimed for his work in British television and film, creates a strikingly realistic narrator and an unforgettable storyline to examine how relationships can go horribly wrong. It’s a sad story, well-written and with brilliant acting. Kelly and Mulligan left a lasting mark on me. 


Who am I?

Crime is intrinsically interesting. From an early age, we’re taught behavioral norms. Hearing of transgressions, we ask, “How’d this happen?... Is it true?... What’s the deeper meaning?” Audiobooks also have a unique ability to engage us. With my reporting background plus a historical novel under my belt, I began researching the real-life case behind Takers Mad, aiming to bring it to life with the intimacy, suspense, and power of an audio drama. Then I was gobsmacked to find fresh evidence in this Gilded Age murder. Now, with Khristine Hvam’s ultra-talented narration, I hope our work entertains and also leads listeners to ponder vital questions—just like the best crime audiobooks.


I wrote...

Takers Mad

By Luke Jerod Kummer,

Book cover of Takers Mad

What is my book about?

A tantalizing drama available exclusively on Audible, Takers Mad guides listeners down a shadowy path to explore a true-crime pulled from New York’s gritty past. As newspapers reported in the 1890s, a woman dubbed "Shakespeare" was found dead in a seedy hotel along Manhattan’s waterfront. The chilling scene recalled for press and police alike Jack the Ripper’s victims in London. After panic quickly spread, the city only sighed relief when detectives abruptly arrested an Algerian immigrant for the crime. But the question lingered—did authorities catch the right man?

Based on the author’s fresh research findings in this infamous real-life case, Takers Mad is a ruminative, atmospheric, and sometimes morbidly funny work of historical and literary suspense.

Memorial Drive

By Natasha Trethewey,

Book cover of Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir

This exquisite memoir contains a chilling account of Tretheway’s mother’s murder at the hands of Tretheway’s abusive stepfather. Delving into the past, she unearths her mother’s history and recaptures the days leading up to her death, even providing police reports of the conversations prior to the murder. And while her mother’s poor choices had a tragic ripple effect on Tretheway’s life, as I fully understand from my own mother-daughter experiences, her compassion never wavers and the result is an illuminating work of art and an example of the heart’s resilience. 


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. 

A Cry for Justice

By Jeff Crippen, Anna Wood,

Book cover of A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church

When I was in the process of leaving my abusive husband, I sought help from my church. Sadly, my pastors had no idea what they were dealing with. Instead of helping me, they sided with my abuser. This book, written by a pastor, helps churches understand the evil that abusers perpetrate, and how they can and should help the abused partner.


Who am I?

I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 20 years but didn’t realize what was happening to me. I tried to twist myself into a perfectly shaped pretzel to make my husband happy. It didn’t work. Reading some of these books gave me the courage to seek a restraining order and divorce my husband. Since then, I became a domestic violence advocate, author, blogger, and mental health counselor. 


I wrote...

A Journey Through Emotional Abuse: From Bondage to Freedom

By Caroline Abbott,

Book cover of A Journey Through Emotional Abuse: From Bondage to Freedom

What is my book about?

In my abusive marriage, it wasn’t until my husband became physically abusive that I started really looking at what was happening to me. I moved from wondering why he was angry all the time to realizing I was being abused. I wrote this book to help others through the hard road I had to travel: seeking help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, lawyers, police, and my church.

I describe my journey with the court system, social services, getting a restraining order and seeking full custody of my kids. I help readers think through the hard questions: Should I leave? How could I do it safely? What will my friends/family/church say? What is best for my kids? Having someone who has been through it themselves walk alongside you is invaluable.

The Hideaway

By Pam Smy,

Book cover of The Hideaway

For older readers, The Hideaway blends themes of domestic violence, difficult family life, community, environment, and care together. Besides an unbearable home life, we are shown how Billy, our main character, finds safety and space in the unlikely setting of a graveyard. His relationship with the old man he meets and the careful work they engage in, help maintain the old man's connection with the past, and Billy's connection with the present. Beautifully illustrated by Smy, and written by her also, this book celebrates the graveyard not as a spooky or scary site, but as a special place where we remember, connect with, and love those we have lost.

Who am I?

I am an author and illustrator of children's picturebooks, having completed my MA at the Cambridge School of Art. I am endlessly fascinated with the picture book as a rich medium for children to safely and slowly approach topics that might be challenging for them. Picture books can be such a versatile, interesting place for curiosity and confidence to thrive, while also creating a lovely time for closeness between parent/carer and child. As we grapple with the long-term effects of the pandemic, I feel that children will need stories more than ever, to help them make sense of their experiences.


I wrote...

Big Dance

By Aoife Greenham,

Book cover of Big Dance

What is my book about?

As Pippa watches her friends express themselves through their special dance moves, she wonders if she will ever find the dance in herself. With gentle encouragement from the others, Pippa discovers that it's all about taking the first step. A story about the freedom to be yourself and the fun of joining in.

A Drink Before the War

By Dennis Lehane,

Book cover of A Drink Before the War: The First Kenzie and Gennaro Novel

Wow. One of the best first novels I've ever read. All I can say is, “Read the damn book if you're a fan of thrillers.” Kenzie and Gennaro complement each other well as a husband-and-wife detective team. Lehane’s prose is as lyrical as it is dark, and his plot is superbly constructed. Finally, Bubba Rogowski is one of the all-time great supporting characters. He might be the only literary character who could beat Jack Reacher in a fight. Plus he’s more loyal to Kenzie and Gennaro than a thousand dogs.


Who am I?

Since becoming a mystery-thriller writer, I’ve searched out great debut novels from other authors in the genre so I can learn from them and compare my skill level and storytelling ability to there’s at approximately the same stage in our respective careers. I’ve read dozens of debut novels, both mystery-thrillers and other genres, and believe that as a writer, I have an extra level of passion and interest and inside knowledge of what makes a great mystery or thriller.


I wrote...

Straight River

By Chris Norbury,

Book cover of Straight River

What is my book about?

Two mysterious deaths—one of which is his father’s—compel Matt Lanier, a professional musician by trade, into a search for the killer. With no superhero skills other than his brilliant musical mind and razor-sharp hearing, Lanier quickly uncovers a land-grab conspiracy that could mean financial ruin or death for thousands of farmers... and for himself. If you're a fan of unique characters who defy all odds and stand up against powerful, ruthless foes, then you'll love this story of a musician/hero who marches to the beat of a different drummer.

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