books & films2017-06-13T20:45:36+00:00

Here are some of my favorite books and films that relate to themes in STRONG AT THE HEART. You can find more in the resource section of the book.

The line between books for general readers and young adult (YA) literature is not clear cut. Here I have listed both together, with descriptions to help you choose books that appeal to you.

 jaycee-dugard A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011). Like Kelly, Jaycee was a young teen when she was snatched off the street by a pedophile. But he and his wife kept Jaycee imprisoned for eighteen years in a shack in their backyard. How Jaycee and her two children survived—physically, mentally, and emotionally—is a riveting story.
Strong at the Heart, by Carolyn Lehman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). Teen and adult. Nine survivors of childhood sexual abuse and rape speak about the abuse they experienced, the ways they found to heal, and how they got their lives back on track. Male as well as female, these teens and adults come from a wide range of ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. Moving personal stories and striking photographs offer readers insight and hope. Comprehensive resource guide.
The Tricky Part, Martin Moran (Beacon Press, 2005). In this stunning memoir, Moran writes about being emotionally seduced and used sexually over a long period, starting when he was twelve. Moran holds nothing back. He scrupulously examines his response (he liked the attention from his camp counselor turned mentor), his own problems (he became addicted to anonymous gay sex), and his struggle to understand the boy he was and heal the man he became.
A Girl’s Life Online, by Katherine Tarbox (Plume, 2004). The eighteen–year–old author writes about being seduced online when she was thirteen by a middle aged pedophile who posed as a much younger “friend.”
Finding Fish, by Antwone Fisher (William Morrow, 2001). Born to a mother in prison, Antwone Fish was abandoned by her to foster care where he was maltreated by his foster mother and sexually abused by a female babysitter. At eighteen he was on the street and in search of a way to save himself.
Half the House, by Richard Hoffman (Harvest, 1996). A beautifully written memoir of the poet’s childhood. As his parents struggle to care for two other, terminally ill children, ten-year-old Richard tried to cope with sexual abuse by his coach. The Harvest edition contains new material that shows the effect of the book’s publication on Hoffman’s family and others. Moving and insightful.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (Random House, 1970; reissued by Bantam in 1993). This vivid and unflinching memoir centers on a violent rape by her mother’s boyfriend when Maya was eight, her silent healing in her grandmother’s care, and her passionate connection with words.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs (Signet Classic, first published in 1861). Harriet was born a slave; her master, Dr. Flint, had complete control over every aspect of her life. To escape his sexual abuses, Harriet used all of the resources she could muster. This first-person account tells what slavery was really like and how one fiercely determined girl escaped.
Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self, by Sara Shandler (HarperCollins, 1999). Girls twelve to eighteen write about their lives, including how they feel about their bodies, their families, their friends and the challenges—including sexual abuse—that many of them face. The author was sixteen when she started this project.
Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs (St. Martin’s Press, 2002). When he was a child, Burroughs’s mother left him in her psychiatrist’s dysfunctional household where he was abused repeatedly by the resident child molester. Graphic sexual scenes and the ghastly characters are balanced by the author’s sense of the absurd, which clearly helped him to survive his Kafkaesque childhood. Funny, tragic and horrific all at once.
Where I Stopped: Remembering an Adolescent Rape, by Martha Ramsey (Harcourt Brace, 1995) Poet Martha Ramsey looks back on the summer she was thirteen, when she was raped by a neighbor. Delicate exploration of her own emotions, her family’s response and her struggle to come to terms with her offender.
Room by Emma Donoghue (New York: Little, Brown, 2010). Five-year-old Jack has lived his whole life in Room, the tiny space where he and his mother are held captive by a sexual predator. Jack’s innocent yet wise voice has much to say about accommodation, resilience, and eventually the difficulties and joys of emerging into freedom.
  Tender Morsels by Margot Lanagan (New York: Knopf, 2008). YA. In a fairytale landscape, Liga is able to escape from her father’s abuses and the village men who raped her. But how long can the magic keep her and her daughters safe? Allusive, haunting, metaphorical, this fantasy explores the uses of dissociation and what happens as a family of survivors re-enters the real world.
Inexcusable, by Chris Lynch (Atheneum, 2005). YA. This is a tough but stunning read, the story of a date rape—told from the offender’s viewpoint. Keir wants us to believe what he believes, that he couldn’t possibly have done “something like that.” His defenses and denials work at first, but little by little his story reveals how his social group, his father, and Keir himself, have covered for his violence and impulsiveness in the past. The voice of the girl is clear and sure. By the end of the book when she says, “You are a rapist,” the reader knows she’s telling the truth, and Keir himself is almost ready to face that inexcusable fact.
The Dream Where the Losers Go, by Beth Goobie (Orca, 2006). YA. Two teens, both suffering the after effects of trauma, one locked in his memories, the other locked in a girl’s psych ward at night. They meet in dark and mysterious tunnels, the place where losers go, slipping in and out of the real world of high school classrooms and cliques and into a world that holds the key to what each has lost. Goobie uses this fantasy motif to depict the world of dissociation and to show two teens as they struggle to get a firm hold on reality after mind shattering multiple perpetrator abuse.
Sins of the Fathers, by Chris Lynch (HarperTempest, September 2006). YA Chris Lynch has done a beautiful job of depicting three rowdy boys in a Boston Catholic school up against the very fallible priests who run the place. There’s no happy ending, but there is clear affirmation of the power of friendship and the importance of sticking together in the face of abusive authority.
Chinese Handcuffs, by Chris Crutcher(Harper Tempest, 2004). YA At sixteen, Dillon is competing in the Ironman triathlon and trying to cope with memories of his brother’s suicide. His friend, Jennifer Lawless, a high school basketball star, has got to figure out how to save herself and her sister from their step dad’s abuse.
I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This andLena, by Jacqueline Woodson (Delacorte, 1994 and 1999). YA. In the first book, Lena tells her only friend Marie that her father is sexually abusing her. Marie reacts with shock, questioning and compassion but she cannot rescue her friend, so Lena does the only thing she can to save herself and her little sister. Lena tells the story of their desperate flight and of the help the two white girls find in the African American community.
Life Is Funny, by E. R. Frank (DK Ink, 2000). YA The stories of eleven different teens unfold over the course of seven years in this moving and quirky YA novel. Each chapter is a stand alone story of a young person face tough situations and making hard choices.
When She Hollers, by Cynthia Voigt (Scholastic, 1996). This YA novel is a vivid portrayal of one, pivotal day in the life of a high school senior who struggles to survive the effects of sexual abuse by her step father. Tish figures out the one true thing that will save her sanity and her life. Intense.
I Was a Teenage Fairy, by Francesca Lia Block (HarperCollins, 1998). YA In the glitzy, glamorous world of Hollywood, child actors and models are fair game for all kinds of exploitation. With the help of her sassy personal fairy, Barbie (named for the doll) fights back. The author explores how past abuse affects the adults in Barbie’s life as well. Wise, funny and magical.
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold (Little Brown, 2002). Fourteen–year–old Susie Salmon, the narrator of this adult novel, is already dead. From heaven, she observes her family and friends as they flounder in the aftermath of Susie’s rape and murder. The violence and grief are heartbreaking, but there is also sweetness and redemption as—even in heaven—people work through their losses and move on.
The Primrose Path, by Carol Matas (Winnipeg: Bain & Cox, 1995). YA. Fourteen–year–old Debbie is confused by the advances of her new, charismatic rabbi. When she does tell, she and her mother face the wrath of the congregation. This is an honest portrayal of a community trying to protect itself from a difficult truth—that even people we love and respect can harm children.
Whale Talk and Chinese Handcuffs, and others, by Chris Crutcher. Chris’ YA novels are fast moving, stories of athletic teenagers who share traits of honesty, anger, determination and resilience. The characters who must cope with abuse find ways to fight back and are portrayed as complicated human beings, not victims. All of his books, at some level, involve confronting injustice and overcoming the odds.
When Jeff Comes Home, by Catherine Atkins (Putnam, 1999). YA. Two and a half years after he was kidnapped by a pedophile, sixteen–year–old Jeff comes home. How can he ever fit into his family again? How can he ever tell anyone what happened to him while he was gone?
Learning to Swim, by Ann Turner (Scholastic, 2000). YA. “With these poems, I have taken a painful, silent time in my childhood and transformed it into something healing and life–giving.” When she is assaulted by a neighbor boy, the author with the help of her family, finds ways to get her life back.
Listening to Winter, by Molly Fisk (Roundhouse Press, 2000). Forty five haunting poems about small towns, love, and the deep solace of nature by a wonderful poet. Six powerful poems reflect on incest.
Antwone Fisher, directed by and starring Denzel Washington, (Twentieth Century Fox, 2002); rated PG 13. The true story of Antwone Fisher’s triumph over childhood abandonment and abuse is somewhat fictionalized. The movie focuses on the young adult Antwone’s relationship with a Navy psychiatrist who pushes the young seaman to confront his past so that he can connect with the girl he loves.
The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey (MGM, 1985); rated PG-13. Based on he award–winning novel by Alice Walker.
Forever Fourteen, written and directed by Kelly St. John (Pyramid Media, 2001);; winner of the 23rd annual News & Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Programming. Kelly St. John explores the impact of her abduction and rape on her family and on the family of murder victim Wendy Osborne. Although the film is currently unavailable, there’s a good article about it at the link. Kelly talks about this film in Strong At the Heart.
Hollow Water, directed by Bonnie Dickie, produced by Joe MacDonald (National Film Board of Canada. 2000); Shot in a tiny Native village in northern Canada. Parents and teens talk about their experiences in healing circles based on traditional Ojibway culture. This film is a testament to one community’s ability to change and heal.
Monsoon Wedding, directed by Mira Nair (USA Films, 2002); rated R for language. Three interlocking stories unfold as an Indian family prepares for and celebrates a joyous traditional wedding. When Ria sees the uncle who molested her take an interest in a younger cousin, she and the family patriarch face difficult but ultimately satisfying decisions.
Rabbit–Proof Fence, directed by Phillip Noyce (Miramax, 2002); rated PG for emotional thematic material. Based on the true story of three aboriginal girls in Australia who were forcibly removed from their families and traditional way of life to be trained to serve white settlers. One scene makes clear their sexual vulnerability. When the girls’ escape they begin a journey that requires all the courage, determination and skill they posses.
Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Men and Women Who Were Sexually Abused as Children, by Laura Davis and Ellen Bass (HarperCollins, 2003; revised edition). Clear and concise, this book is a road map to the healing process. It contains interesting personal stories, sound advice for survivors and information on how friends and family can help.
theCouragetoHeal The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 20th Anniversary Edition by Laura Davis and Ellen Bass (New York: Morrow, 2008). The comprehensive guide to healing from childhood sexual abuse, completely updated, rings with the true voices of survivors. Also recommended: Laura Davis’ Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused.
healing-sex Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma by Staci Haines (Cleis Press, 2007). A sex-positive approach to healing for women from a wise and engaging sex educator. Clear and direct.
sexual-healing The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, 3rd edition by Wendy Maltz (New York: Morrow, 2012). Reassuring advice for men and women—and their partners.
How Long Does It Hurt? A Guide to Recovering from Incest and Sexual Abuse for Teenagers, Their Friends, and Their Families, by Cynthia Mather (Jossey–Bass, 1994). Is this really abuse? What is it like to tell? What if you have to go to court? How do you move forward? Helpful advice for teens in all stages of dealing with sexual abuse.
In Love and Danger: A Teen’s Guide to Breaking Free of Abusive Relationships, by Barrie Levy (Seal Press, 1993, 1997). Does your boyfriend or girlfriend hurt you? Have you hurt someone you love? Good advice on how to break the cycle of violence in dating relationships.
I Thought We’d Never Speak Again, by Laura Davis (HarperCollins, 2002). Adult. After the work of healing comes the choice of what to do with old relationships. This book shows how people reconcile after interpersonal trauma of all kinds, sometimes going back to form relationships on a new footing, other times choosing to stay away.
No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse, by Robin D. Stone (Broadway Books, 2004). This wise and powerful guide contains solid information. The personal stories, social insights, and practical advice in it are based in African–American experience.
Outgrowing the Pain, by Eliana Gil (Launch, 1983). A very clear and straightforward introduction to the effects of child abuse and how to start healing.
Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse, by Mike Lew (Harper Collins, 2004). In this excellent resource Mike answers questions like: What is abuse? Can boys be abused by women? What is the relationship between sexuality, homophobia and shame? And is recovery possible? Also see Mike’s book, Leaping upon the Mountains which has inspiring messages from men who are healing from abuse and an extensive resource section.
When Something Feels Wrong: A Survival Guide about Abuse for Young People, by Deanna S. Pledge (Free Spirit, 2003). Covers a wide range of abuses—physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, date rape, bullying, and neglect. Detailed advice about who to tell and how, what happens after you tell, and how to start healing.
Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman, M. D. (HarperCollins, 1992). How does human induced trauma affect people? How to people heal? This scholarly book by a Harvard professor of psychiatry brings together research on survivors of concentration camps, terrorism and abuse in the home to give a full picture of healing in the aftermath of violence.
On Playing a Poor Hand Well: Insights from the Lives of Those Who Have Overcome Childhood Risks and Adversities, by Mark Katz (W. W. Norton, 1997). A lot of people have rotten childhoods; some turn their lives around, others don’t. The author uses both personal stories and research on resiliency to show how people succeed in taking control of their lives.