I am so bad about reviewing good books that I read. I have a whole stack of books that I have been meaning to talk about on here for ages and I seem to never get around to them. In any case, I just read a fabulous new book that I want to let you all know about and it gives me a chance to talk about another not new book that I’ve been meaning to talk about for ages.
The thing that these books share in common is that both the female protagonists are involved in very abusive relationships. This is a common enough theme in adult novels, but I haven’t seen it very much in YA.
Cori McCarthy’s The Color of Rain just came out this month. It’s a high-concept Sci-fi thriller, but it’s got a lot of heart in it, too. The MC, Rain White (and believe it or not, the color symbolism of her name did not hit me until this moment as I was typing that), makes the decision to sell her body to an evil, narcissistic Star ship captain from “the Void” in order to get her dying little brother off the planet. She ends up selling her body to countless men over the course of the book.
The other book that I want to talk about is The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner. This book is half comics, half novel. The teen protagonist, Minnie Goetze, gets involved in a sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend.
I think maybe there aren’t many books for teens about abusive relationships because teens are just starting to get into their first real relationships, and we’d all like to hope that these first relationships are fairly stable and healthy. Or at the very least, safe. It’s hard to think that the teens in our lives might be getting involved with people who are severely disturbed and are going to really mess them up.
But like it or not, this happens. And one of the things that I appreciate the most about both of these books is that they both give very realistic reasons for why it happens. Minnie’s mother is heinously emotionally abusive and neglectful. Rain’s family is all dead, she lives on the street, and her best friend is a prostitute.
Both of these girls need someone to take care of them, literally. Minnie needs a parent and a home. Rain needs the same thing and someone to help her save her little brother, as well. But the trouble is that kids without stable homes, kids without parents, kids who have lived through severe trauma may need adult relationships. But they are woefully unqualified to judge what a safe, healthy partner or relationship is. On top of that, they are not likely to believe that they deserve a healthy relationship. And because their need is so great and their self-loathing is so high, they are much more likely than their “normal” counterparts to stay in a severely abusive relationship for far too long.
Both of these accounts were at times quite painful to read, but for the most part they were also quite honest and un-flinching. Rain’s relationship with Johnny Vale goes from merely icky to nearly homicidal in a fairly realistic arc. Physical violence is a common outcome of abusive relationships and it often does take a little while to really surface. In Diary of a Teenage Girl Monroe has a lot of threats and excuses to keep Minnie from talking about their relationship with anyone, especially her mother, and this, too, is very realistic.
I often hesitate to recommend books about trauma to kids who are currently experiencing trauma, but in this case, I think that all teens could benefit from reading these books. If a teen is currently involved in a twisted, abusive relationship, then just maybe reading one of these books could help her recognize it and get out of it. Even if the realization is incredibly painful. The alternative–dead or emotionally dead teen–is too bad to not try to raise the issue.