13 YA Books About Sexual Assault And Rape Culture That Every Teenager Needs To Read

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Rape Culture is nothing new, but it has certainly been in the news a lot lately —  from Donald Trump continuing to deny any wrongdoing in that Access Hollywood tape, to multiple women coming forth with years worth of shocking allegations of rape and sexual assault by celebrities and influencers from Bill Cosby to Roger Ailes to Harvey Weinstein.

In a time when our president and high-profile celebrities are being accused of assaulting and harassing women, people are being exposed to the harsh realities of rape culture earlier and earlier. Luckily, there are plenty of books that make learning about rape culture, sexual assault, and its consequences accessible for teens and young adults who are beginning to learn about the nuances of these issues.

And though all of these reads would be beneficial for all genders, especially those looking to deconstruct rape culture and all of the daily microagressions that contribute to it, how their own internalized misogyny can be fought against, and what they can do to make it easier to recognize rape culture in their own lives, and encourage their friends to speak up and speak out against it at every turn. Now is the time to create a culture in which women are supported and perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable for their actions; and teens and young adults can do so much to ensure that our future is a safer place for all.

'Speak' by Laurie Halse Anderson

This classic, groundbreaking novel follows Melinda, who uses art as a way to face what happened to her an end-of-summer party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who attends her high school and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, and refuses to be silent. It's a powerful portrayal of the aftermath of rape that will help teens wrap their minds around the real consequences (physical, mental, and emotional) of sexual assault.

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'I Have The Right To: A High School Survivor's Story Of Sexual Assault, Justice And Hope' by Chessy Prout

Chessy Prout was a freshman at a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire when a senior boy sexually assaulted her as part of a ritualized game of conquest. She bravely reported her assault to the police and testified against her attacker in court. Then, in the face of unfathomable backlash from her once trusted school community, she shed her anonymity to help other survivors find their voice. While this memoir dives into her own account, it also takes a magnifying glass to the institutions that turn a blind eye to such behavior, while offering real solutions to upending rape culture.

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'Wrecked' by Maria Padian

Everyone on campus has a different version of what happened that night. Haley saw Jenny return from the party, shell-shocked. Richard heard Jordan brag about the cute freshman he hooked up with. When Jenny accuses Jordan of rape, Haley and Richard are pushed to opposite sides of the school’s investigation. Now conflicting versions of the story may make bringing the truth to light nearly impossible—especially when reputations, relationships, and futures are riding on the verdict. Wrecked takes an interesting look at witnesses and allies in sexual assault cases, and how speaking up is a crucial part of upending rape culture.

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'Exit, Pursued By A Bear' by E.K. Johnston

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, the cheerleaders are the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team's summer training camp is Hermione's last and marks the beginning of the end of… she’s not sure what. During a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And all goes black. Hermione struggles to regain the control she's always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn't the beginning of Hermione Winter's story and she's not going to let it be the end.

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'Pointe' by Brandy Colbert

Theo is better now. She's eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor. Donovan isn't talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn't do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she's been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

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'Moxie' by Jennifer Mathieu

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. So she creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. And pretty soon Viv has started a revolution. Moxie shows how small, seemingly innocuous instances of "boys being boys" can manifest and warp themselves into dangerous misogyny and sexual violence; and how important it is for feminist men to be allies to the women in their lives.

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'The Way I Used to Be' by Amber Smith

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes. Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this story reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the aftermath and learns to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within. This is a powerful look at the fact that the effects of rape are long-lasting and complex.

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'Asking for It: The Rise Of Rape Culture And What We Can Do About It' by Kate Harding

Sexual violence has been so prominent in recent years that the feminist term “rape culture” has finally entered the mainstream. But what, exactly, is it? And how do we change it?  In Asking for It, Kate Harding answers those questions in the same blunt voice that’s made her a powerhouse feminist blogger. Combining in-depth research with practical knowledge, Harding offers ideas and suggestions for addressing how we as a culture can take rape much more seriously without compromising the rights of the accused. It's a great precursor to the subject for anyone looking to make the dive.

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'52 Likes' by Medeia Sharif

After a brutal rape and near-murder, Valerie wants to get past feelings of victimhood from both the assault and her history of being bullied. She’s plagued by not knowing the identity of her rapist and by the nasty rumors in school about that night. Valerie follows clues from ghostly entities, past victims of the rapist-murderer, contacting her through a social media site—why do all of their eerie photos have 52 likes under them? Their messages are leading her to the mystery man, although he’ll put up a fight to remain hidden.

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'All The Rage' by Courtney Summers

This brutal, unflinching depiction of rape and its aftermath follows Romy, who has been assaulted by the sheriff's son, Kellan Turner, who is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. But when news of Kellan assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. This is a important look at the "Golden Boy" narrative and how we as a culture choose not to believe women.

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'What We Saw' by Aaron Hartzler

Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house, but when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy.  This story—inspired by real events—takes an unflinching look at silence as a form of complicity. And takes a look at the high stakes of speaking up, the thin line between guilt and innocence, and how social media can play a huge role in perpetuating rape culture.

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'Asking for It' by Louise O’Neill

One night, there's a party. The next morning, 18-year-old Emma O'Donovan wakes on the front porch of her house. She can't remember what happened. But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don't want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town's heroes. This raw and unflinching account of silence in the wake of assault and rape culture as entertainment is a must-read for any teen on the internet.

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'We Should All Be Feminists' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Though not specifically about sexual assault, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's renowned TED Talk about feminist issues and why we all (yes, men included) should be feminists is one of the easiest ways to begin the conversation about gender inequality, women's rights, slut shaming, and countless other feminist issues. It's a digestible, beautifully written manifesto on what gender equality means today; and all of the many ways we can and should fight for it.

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