The best books about rape

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

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The Way I Used to Be

By Amber Smith,

Book cover of The Way I Used to Be

I always say that you never know what goes on behind someone else’s closed door. How they appear physically and/or mentally in public doesn’t tell their whole story. It’s like social media. We only share the good parts of our lives. Everyone has secrets and fears and reasons they keep parts of their lives to themselves. The Way I Used to Be is a perfect example of why we should never judge a person without knowing them and why we should take the time to get to know a person, pay attention to changes in personality, and let them know you are a friend. We are all guilty of not taking the time and this book is a reminder to myself that I must be better than that.


Who am I?

The topic of mental health, which is prominent in all the books I’ve recommended, including my own, is one I am passionate about. As a neurodivergent person, I know first-hand how difficult the teen years can be. Not only are you dealing with the issues like friends, family, and school, but you are working with other factors that can make learning and socializing especially difficult. When I was a teen, I did not have books like these to guide me and let me know I was not alone in my feelings and struggles. It is my deepest wish that all kids have books, tools, and guides to help them.


I wrote...

List of Ten

By Halli Gomez,

Book cover of List of Ten

What is my book about?

Ten: three little letters, one ordinary number. For Troy Hayes, a sixteen-year-old suffering from Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the number dictates his life. Fed up with the daily humiliation, loneliness, and physical pain, Troy writes a list of ten things to do by the tenth anniversary of his diagnosis—culminating in suicide on the actual day. But the process of working his way through the list changes Troy’s life: he becomes friends with Khory, a classmate with her own troubled history who unwittingly helps him cross off items on his list. He moves ever closer to his grand finale, even as Khory shows him that life may have more possibilities than he imagined. 

The Word for World Is Forest

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Word for World Is Forest

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my favorite writers. The story reminds me a bit of the movie, Avatar, in that a peaceful earth-loving society is being taken over by a group that enslaves them and exploits their resources. I love trees and so the title of this classic attracts me right off. Le Guin explores ideas of how to stand up to oppression and environmental and cultural destruction without losing the most precious parts of ourselves, our communities, and our natural environment. 


Who am I?

I grew up playing in nature: body surfing the waves in Southern California, backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, swimming in rivers. For the past thirty years, I’ve lived in the redwoods of Northern California. Spending so much time in the peace and beauty of nature has filled me with joy and deep respect for the incredibly interconnectedness of living ecosystems. I’ve also had a lifelong passion for reading, especially fairy tales, fables and fantasies. Combining nature and fantasy in my writing allows me to explore ideas and inspirations about how we can live in harmony on our one beautiful planet.


I wrote...

Wind

By Ellen Dee Davidson,

Book cover of Wind

What is my book about?

Thrust by an earthquake into a world where trees are wise helpers, animals can guide us to safety, stories are gathered by the guardian of the deep sea, and greed becomes a place where everything turns to poison, Katie must learn to get along with an annoying alien boy, Za, in order to return home. But as Katie’s experiences test her environmental awareness, will she ever be able to develop her gifts of listening and communicating with the non-human realm? Will she and Za ever figure out the secret to finding the elusive Winged Ones – the only beings capable of taking them home?

Rape Myths, the Bible, and #Metoo

By Johanna Stiebert,

Book cover of Rape Myths, the Bible, and #Metoo

The #MeToo movement has helped twenty-first-century society begin to reckon with sexual violence, including the harmful myths that blame victims and shield perpetrators from consequences. Stiebert reads ancient biblical stories about rape in conversation with modern accounts. Similarities include the way society fails to acknowledge the reality of violence or to believe victims, especially victims of powerful men.  


Who am I?

Joy Schroeder is a historian devoted to examining the experiences of women in Christianity and Judaism. With concern for female and male victims of violence, Schroeder scrutinizes historical documents to find accounts of harassment, rape, clergy sexual abuse, and other violence. She brings the historical accounts to light while critiquing the cultural patterns that perpetuate violence in our own day. In her work as a pastor and as a professor, she has worked to support victims of harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence, and child abuse. Schroeder is a professor of church history at Capital University (Columbus, Ohio), where she teaches at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the department of religion and philosophy. 


I wrote...

Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

By Joy Schroeder,

Book cover of Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

What is my book about?

Dinah’s Lament explores heartbreaking biblical stories of sexual violence that were misinterpreted by Christian interpreters in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Through the centuries, male interpreters interpreted and retold these scriptural stories in ways that revealed their own cultural assumptions about rape.

All too often, clergymen blamed victims or minimized the reality of the violence the women endured. In sermons and biblical commentaries, interpreters accused the young rape victim Dinah (Genesis 34) of provoking and enjoying a brutal attack by a powerful prince’s son. Some denied that the encounter was actually rape. In the case of an unnamed woman (Judges 19) who suffered collective rape (“gang rape”) and died following the violence, some commentators believed that the attack was God’s fitting punishment for sins she committed. Too often, the female biblical character is voiceless—emblematic of the silencing of victims throughout history. 

Still Beating

By Jennifer Hartmann,

Book cover of Still Beating

This romance caught me off guard. It was a dark romance about a kidnapped man and a woman. The heroine and her sister's fiancé who she disliked. I have to say this book isn’t for everyone as the sensitive subject matter is written about, such as rape and also a suicide attempt. However, because of Hartmann’s amazing way with words, I can’t stop thinking about this book and the characters. Hartmann’s exquisite writing style took me into the basement where the couple was kept. I felt fear and sadness for them. I felt hope. I felt so many things that left me confused at times, but as I was struggling with emotions, I found myself falling in love with these characters. This book was unlike any I have read before. It is a must-read.


Who am I?

Seeing couples that are still in love after being with one another for 50+ years has always warmed my heart. Seeing my grandparents hold one another’s hands and look at each other with love always made me hopeful to find such a love. I have not been blessed to have that kind of love in my life (yet) but that does not stop me from looking for it and finding it in books. The characters in my favorite books are ones I identify with on some level. They are loyal, do not give up and they love wholeheartedly, even if they make some missteps along the way, the end destination always ends up being deeply in love. And I love cheering on characters when they deal with everyday issues and roadblocks on this journey of love. 


I wrote...

The Truth About Adira

By Anna Paulsen,

Book cover of The Truth About Adira

What is my book about?

The Truth About Adira is a story about second chances as well as a story of finding a type of love that shines a light into places that were once encompassed by utter darkness. This type of light is a guiding beacon that warms a heart that has learned to protect itself by isolating itself.

The Truth About Adira takes you on a journey of exploring the past while building a solid foundation in the present for the future. 

Tess of the D Urbervilles

By Thomas Hardy,

Book cover of Tess of the D Urbervilles

This is my favorite classic novel, partly because I’m a fan of soap operas featuring long-suffering heroines. No one in fiction suffers more than Tess Durbeyfield, and no one deserves it less than she does. Tess is pure and good, yet Hardy assures she is never boring.

The doomed scoundrel here is an aristocrat named Alec D’Urberville, no relation to her. When she is sent to Alec’s doorstep because her dad thinks their families might be connected, it leads to a litany of disasters for Tess. There’s a rape, a scandalous pregnancy, and much misfortune. Because society in the 1870s blames Tess for the indignities she suffers, her doom is sealed almost from the start. Even when she falls in love with a good Christian farmer named Angel, things don’t turn out as expected.


Who am I?

I believe that abuse – in all the forms it takes - doesn’t get discussed enough in real life, and some readers and viewers don’t even believe it should be explored in fiction, either. I think that abusers use shame as a way of perpetuating their wrongs, for victims who self-blame or stay quiet mean that this sort of activity can continue. It happened to me. I found stories where characters fought for themselves, even Ripley’s, to be satisfying. In my own novel, I wanted to depict a situation that might be abusive, but those abuses occur in a gray area, where the protagonist feels he cannot confide in others.


I wrote...

Impacted

By Benji Carr,

Book cover of Impacted

What is my book about?

Impacted follows a character named Wade Harrell during a handful of days where his life goes to hell. He’s living in his mom’s basement with his girlfriend Jessa and their newborn baby, yet he’s having a secret affair with his dentist Dr. Emmett, whom Wade discovers is not the best guy. A breakup conversation with the manipulative dentist turns violent, and Wade finds his situation getting continually worse and more complicated. His secrets keep piling up, and he’s in fear for his life.

It’s a bit of a thriller with a dash of dark, dark comedy. But it’s also a Trojan horse of a book, full of twists that readers won’t see coming.

Carter Reed

By Tijan,

Book cover of Carter Reed

How great is the feeling of being attracted to a man you know would kill for you? Maybe it’s a horrible thing to feel, it sets off all those questions about your own soul. Or maybe it’s just that you have always lived in this cold world that is liable to destroy you at any moment and instead of giving in, you find a place that feels safe and protected in that world. Only the place is within that bad boy's arms. 


Who am I?

Ever since I was a child, I would hide in my special place and dream away. Reality was rarely the best place to be, even as an adult I fantasize, I step away from reality without ever truly stepping away. Mafia Romance, paranormal, and fantasy excite me, but add in a little touch of real to the story and now even reality makes you wonder. This was the basis for The Devil’s Eyes. I took a new world and mixed in a little bit of what we know is true and a little bit of what-if and a lot of dark and sexy. 


I wrote...

The Devil's Eyes

By Jennifer Loren, Hang Le (illustrator),

Book cover of The Devil's Eyes

What is my book about?

The Devil’s Eyes novel dives deep into the world of the Jayzon crime syndicate. The leader, Nick Jayzon, a rapidly advancing figure in the city has plenty of enemies, but few would dare cross him. There is something different about him, a power that he possesses unlike anyone else. He controls people and turns them into what he needs, except for Kayla. He has no control over her, the first for the young devil. It’s exciting for him, but the game quickly becomes a little too real. Nick is not who Kayla thought he was, and she is not at all like anyone else. It’s a dangerous world Nick lives in, a world he was born in and she, Kayla, was born to change. 

Things We Didn't Talk about When I Was a Girl

By Jeannie Vanasco,

Book cover of Things We Didn't Talk about When I Was a Girl: A Memoir

The best memoirs, to me, are not only records of past events. They are also the record of a writer grappling with how best to tell the story. Jeannie Vanasco takes this idea to an entirely new level in this brilliant meta-memoir that not only chronicles a sexual assault she experienced in college, but also her present-day investigation into her rapist’s memories of the event, his motives, and his present-day thoughts about what happened. This book challenged me to think in new ways—not only about sexual assault, but also about the ways we remember it and write about it. 


Who am I?

I am a reader, writer, and professor specializing in memoir writing. I think every single person has a fascinating life. But, when writing it down, it can be difficult to find a narrative structure that allows the story to feel as unique as the human being writing it. I am drawn to memoirs that have fresh, creative ways of organizing their material—memoirs that go beyond or subvert the conventional, straightforward, chronological approach. After all, our memories are often scattered, fragmented, interrupted, non-linear, or just bizarre; memoirs that capture not only the person’s lived experience but also the messiness of memory itself feel more powerful and true to me. 


I wrote...

Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir

By Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman,

Book cover of Sounds Like Titanic: A Memoir

What is my book about?

When aspiring violinist Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman lands a job with a professional ensemble in New York City, she imagines she has achieved her lifelong dream. But the ensemble proves to be a sham. When the group “performs,” the microphones are never on. Instead, the music blares from a CD. The mastermind behind this scheme is a peculiar and mysterious figure known as The Composer, who is gaslighting his audiences with music that sounds suspiciously like the Titanic movie soundtrack. On tour with his chaotic ensemble, Hindman spirals into crises of identity and disillusionment as she “plays” for audiences genuinely moved by the performance, unable to differentiate real from fake.

Sounds Like Titanic is a surreal, often hilarious coming-of-age story. Written with precise, candid prose and sharp insight into ambition and gender.

Rape

By Joanna Bourke,

Book cover of Rape: A History From 1860 To The Present

This book is one of several by Bourke that are useful for the comparative study of violence, though they are often chilling to read. Bourke has an impressive range as a historian, as well as the tremendous backbone needed to do research on extremely difficult topics.

Who am I?

I am a biblical scholar who has become a historian of violence because I could no longer ignore the realities of the present or my own past. I write of violence for my childhood self, who was bullied for a decade and used to run away from school.  I write of it for my grandfather, who was born of exploitation.  I write of it for my African-American wife and daughter, in the hopes that I might contribute to the elimination of hierarchies that threaten their dignity and sometimes their lives.  Doing this work is not just intellectual for me—it is a memorialization and a ritual of healing. 


I wrote...

Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

By T.M. Lemos,

Book cover of Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

What is my book about?

In the first book-length work ever written on personhood in ancient Israel, I reveal widespread intersections between violence and personhood in this society and the wider region. Relations of domination and subordination were incredibly important to the culture of ancient Israel, with these relations often determining the boundaries of personhood itself. Personhood was malleable—it could be and was violently erased in many social contexts. This study exposes a violence-personhood-masculinity nexus in which domination allowed those in control to animalize and brutalize the bodies of subordinates.

The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34

By Caroline Blyth,

Book cover of The Narrative of Rape in Genesis 34: Interpreting Dinah's Silence

The twelve sons of the biblical patriarch Jacob had a sister named Dinah who was abducted and raped by the son of a prince (Genesis 34). Dinah speaks no words in the biblical text. Caroline Blyth gives voice to Dinah by examining the words of modern women from around the globe, comparing Dinah’s experience with that of her modern-day sisters. With a poignant, sensitive reading of the Bible and the testimonies of women living today, Blyth exposes and rejects dangerous myths and stereotypes about sexual violence.


Who am I?

Joy Schroeder is a historian devoted to examining the experiences of women in Christianity and Judaism. With concern for female and male victims of violence, Schroeder scrutinizes historical documents to find accounts of harassment, rape, clergy sexual abuse, and other violence. She brings the historical accounts to light while critiquing the cultural patterns that perpetuate violence in our own day. In her work as a pastor and as a professor, she has worked to support victims of harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence, and child abuse. Schroeder is a professor of church history at Capital University (Columbus, Ohio), where she teaches at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the department of religion and philosophy. 


I wrote...

Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

By Joy Schroeder,

Book cover of Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation

What is my book about?

Dinah’s Lament explores heartbreaking biblical stories of sexual violence that were misinterpreted by Christian interpreters in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Through the centuries, male interpreters interpreted and retold these scriptural stories in ways that revealed their own cultural assumptions about rape.

All too often, clergymen blamed victims or minimized the reality of the violence the women endured. In sermons and biblical commentaries, interpreters accused the young rape victim Dinah (Genesis 34) of provoking and enjoying a brutal attack by a powerful prince’s son. Some denied that the encounter was actually rape. In the case of an unnamed woman (Judges 19) who suffered collective rape (“gang rape”) and died following the violence, some commentators believed that the attack was God’s fitting punishment for sins she committed. Too often, the female biblical character is voiceless—emblematic of the silencing of victims throughout history. 

Learning to Breathe

By Janice Lynn Mather,

Book cover of Learning to Breathe

Learning to Breathe tells such an important side of the #MeToo Movement, with sixteen-year-old Indira (Indy), a Black Bahamian girl who struggles to find her place in the aftermath of an assault that leads to an unwanted pregnancy. Set in the Bahamas, a place so often portrayed in Western culture as idyllic, it depicts a very different gritty and authentic lived reality for the main character. This heart-rending, yet empowering novel is enlightening on so many levels. Not only does it offer the unique and all-too-often overlooked point of view of a young person of color, but it also deals with complex family issues, homelessness, and a young woman’s path to claiming power over her own body and future. 


Who am I?

I began writing The Way I Used to Be back in 2010. For me, it started simply as a place to work through my own private thoughts and feelings about sexual violence. I was writing as a survivor myself, but also as someone who has known, loved, and cared for so many others who have experienced violence and abuse. By the time I finished, I realized my novel had evolved into something much bigger: a story I hoped could contribute something meaningful to the larger dialogue. These powerful books on this list are all a part of that dialogue, each based in a richly diverse, yet shared reality. Readers will learn, grow, heal, and find hope in these pages.


I wrote...

The Way I Used to Be

By Amber Smith,

Book cover of The Way I Used to Be

What is my book about?

Eden was always good at being good. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, everything changes. What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved, she now hates. What she thought was true…now lies. She knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So, she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative novel reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, all while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had.

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