Much of the recent press around now very public sexual assault and harassment cases has brought to mind some of the very first novels I read about rape. The first was The Color Purple, which was shocking and deeply affecting, yet there is no book on this subject that had quite the lasting or haunting impact on me as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Anderson's story about Melinda is full of isolation, self-loathing, shame and silence. The struggles Melinda faces at the same school as lost friends and "IT" stuck with me for years. I know so many others, like me, who have treasured and applauded Melinda's story of resilience.
Because 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of Speak, it seems fitting that Anderson would want to introduce Melinda's story in a new format—a graphic novel called Speak, illustrated by Emily Carroll. While I enjoyed this book and believe it captures Melinda's dark emotions and pain through the heavy black and white images, I recommend reading it in addition to, not instead of, the original print fiction. Ironically, the art of the word, rather than image, gave me the best sense of hope and power Melinda is able to discover through art and time.
In March, Anderson is releasing a book of poetry based on experiences that inspired Speak, entitled Shout. In the meantime, here are some other poignant novels about sexual assault.
Asking for It: Set in Ireland, this book has two parts—the lead-up to 18-year-old Emma's sexual assault and the trial. Emma is deemed "promiscuous" and learns about her attack and what people think about her on social media.
Exit, Pursued by A Bear: Hermione is fiercely competitive and ambitious, and these qualities, along with the compassion of her best friend, make the difficult journey she has to take after being raped at cheer camp victorious. She absolutely refuses to let her assault define her.
Inexcusable: This provocative novel offers the rare and unique perspective of a "good guy" named Keir, who can't come to terms with being accused of raping Gigi. I like to think that accounts like this, of the violence and regret one feels after taking away someone else's power, may make sexual assault less likely.
The Mockingbirds: Alex wakes up naked in a boy's dorm room and can't remember what happened but, as pieces of her memory return, she knows she's been date-raped and wants justice.
Raiders Night: Matt has troubles at home but even tougher issues to deal with on his high school football team. From bullying and harassment to steroids, the "community" is unpleasant, to say the least, but it becomes horrific with a brutal sexual assault.
Thirteen Reasons Why: Through left-behind cassette tapes, Hannah tells 13 people about her date rape and the ultimate loss of trust, privacy and security that influenced her decision to end her life.
The Way I Used to Be: Eden is raped by her brother’s best friend her freshman year and covers it up for four long years—self-destructing over time, becoming promiscuous and shutting down her emotions. Readers will celebrate her changes and dramatic journey.
Help is available for anyone who is a victim of sexual assault: