This was a “tough” Top Ten to come up with, only because it was hard thinking back and trying to remember books that featured horrible subjects such as rape, suicide, cancer, and war. I don’t really like to think about those things a lot, but they happen nonetheless, and I think learning about the different situations and how to overcome them is the best thing you can do. You never know what is around the corner for you in life, and someday you might have to draw on that strength you learned about in a book of someone else’s tragedies.
So without further ado, here are my top ten books dealing with tough subjects. (They aren’t in any particular order.)
1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: This book covers a young girl of 14 being raped and killed by her neighbor. It doesn’t get much tougher than that. The interesting part of it is how she tells the story from heaven and watches her family struggle with their grief for her. It was also hard to read the parts where she recounts what happened to her, something that a “normal” setting couldn’t include. I thought the unique viewpoint left a more lasting impression of the situation.
2 .The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: I read this book in college as a required reading material for the Honors program. I have never been one to read war stories as I don’t like guts and blood in real life, so I usually don’t like to read about it. But this book was different. It really shed light on the brotherhood that forms with soldiers and the struggles they go through every day. It still got graphic, but I became invested in the characters so much that I overlooked it.
3. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay: The tough subjects in this book include being brutally attacked (almost to the brink of death) and losing all your loved ones at a very young age. Both main characters, Nastya and Josh, were struggling to overcome the way these hard subjects have brought them down and they found healing in each other.
4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: The story deals with rape and the culture of high school where adults say to speak up but usually nothing is done. The main character, Melinda, does stand up for herself and, in this, it brings a triumphant light to the story that started out with such an ugly subject.
5. Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff: This book touches on the subject of eating disorders as the main character, Hannah, is still dealing with the fact that her best friend died from starvation because of it. That best friend is now a ghost that follows her around, never letting her forget about what happened to her and the guilt that she didn’t do enough to save her. I thought it was handled well given that her “dead” friend was still there to interact with and confront about why she did it to herself, hopefully giving some clarity on both sides of anyone struggling with an eating disorder or watching someone else do it.
6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: One of the most frightening things about The Hunger Games is the thought of our society actually turning into something like this – where children have to fight for their lives and the rest of society watches in a twisted form of reality television. I think that’s what made it so difficult, and yet, intriguing to read about. It’s a warning of what can happen if we aren’t careful and a reminder of what a group can do when they are united in a cause.
7. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines: The story is so very tough because the whole time we know that an innocent man is going to pay for a crime he didn’t commit. It is hard to be okay with that kind of ending, but the lessons he learns about life leading up to that point are powerful and poignant, and he stands tall and proud at the end, which is a triumphant in itself.
8. Paint It Black by Janet Fitch: The story revolves around Josie Tyrell as she tries to understand and recover from her boyfriend Michael Farraday’s suicide. It was very dark in theme, but I felt the emotions matched the situation well and, in the end, I felt hope like Josie did.
9. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green: Cancer is never an easy subject, but no one can do it better and more emotionally charged than John Green.
10. No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War by Anita Lobel: I read this a very long time ago, but I still remember it really capturing my attention. It’s a memoir of Anita Lobel and it covers her experiences as a child during World War II, including a concentration camp.