Here Are 8 Powerful Must-Read Banned Books Discussing Sexual Assault

Books are both healing and educational. Discover eight eloquent stories bringing awareness to sexual assault, and find education or refuge in these tales.

Book Bans Book Culture
Book jackets for Sold by Patricia McCormick, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson are arranged side-by-side on a painted teal background, with various line-drawings of plants between the covers.

Trigger Warning: The mention of rape, sexual assault, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, and bullying may be triggering for some readers. Please exercise personal care when reading.

Books are powerful tools for building empathy and broadening knowledge. Yet, in recent years, authorities have banned hundreds of titles across libraries and schools for perceived inappropriate or radical content. Many of the banned books are from LGBTQ+ authors or authors of color, but another significant literary theme that faces backlash is books discussing sexual assault.

Books educate on survivors’ stories by representing them in empathetic yet honest ways, raising critical awareness of the issue of sexual assault. Authentic, accurate representation aids in ending stigma and rape culture, strengthening justice systems and counseling services, and overall, creating a safe environment for everyone. Further, this representation helps survivors process their experiences, find solace, and discover their voice. Provided here is a list of wrongly banned books dealing with or mentioning sexual assault.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Book jacket for The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. The title is engraved on a white background in a cursive dark blue font.

Toni Morrison’s debut novel follows the story of an 11-year-old girl named Pecola Breedlove. A Black child in America, Pecola yearns to be like the many other children with blonde hair and blue eyes. She prays for blue eyes so that people will see her as beautiful, changing her life to one free of adversity. Pecola’s tumultuous journey is illustrated through Morrison’s poignant and heartbreaking prose in this tale of discovering one’s self-worth.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. The bust of a man adorns a flower crown. The flowers are yellow roses with red shadows, a large white and red flower, and orange and blue leaves. The background is a blue, purple, and pink gradient.

All Boys Aren’t Blue is a stunning testimonial for young Black queer men. In his memoir, Johnson chronicles his life, from getting bullied in kindergarten to kind memories of his grandmother, his first sexual relationships, and college life. At the same time, George M. Johnson integrates impactful discussions on gender identity, toxic masculinity, consent, brotherhood, family, oppression, and Black joy to create this masterpiece of essays.

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Sold by Patricia McCormick illustrates the life of Lakshmi, a 13-year-old girl born into poverty. Despite her family’s circumstances, Lakshmi appreciates life’s small pleasures, like spending time with her friend after school and having her mother brush her hair in the evenings. But all of it ends when Himalayan monsoons tear through their home, damaging the family’s crops and livelihoods. Lakshmi’s stepfather forces Lakshmi into work to support her family, and she ends up traveling to India with a stranger who says Lakshmi will have a job as a maid.

Book jacket for Sold by Patricia McCormick. A cut-out, black and white photo of a girl in a headdress is set against an ornately patterned yellow background.

However, when Lakshmi arrives at the “Happiness House,” she discovers she instead has been sold into prostitution. The brothel owner, Mumtaz, is cruel and deceitful, stealing what little Lakshmi makes and trapping her at the brothel until she can pay off her family’s debt. Lakshmi’s life is unbearable except for her memories of her mother and the friendships with the other girls in the house. One day, Lakshmi is offered the ultimate yet frightful opportunity, faced with the decision to risk everything for a chance at life.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Book jacket for Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. On a solid black background, there are two line drawings of bees.

Each vibrant chapter in Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey explores a new concept about healing from hurt, abuse, survival, loss, and heartbreak. Even in the most bitter, difficult times, Rupi Kaur’s poems shed light on the sweetness waiting to be found in every corner of life, the body and soul, empowering readers with a refreshing perspective for those who need it.

Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are 16-year-old twin sisters, daughters of a district court judge and a politician. From the outside, they appear to be the perfect family. However, they are sitting on top of a mountain of family secrets they intend to harbor, hiding the true reason behind their father’s car accident and their mother’s absenteeism.

Book jacket for Identical by Ellen Hopkins. The title and author name are etched on a dark grey scratched surface.

In this instability, Kaeleigh and Raeanne struggle to stick together, coping in separate and desperate ways. Their father plays favorites, and tired of his game, Raeanne drowns her hurt and anger with drugs, alcohol, and sex. Kaeleigh still plays the part of a perfect daughter, yet she turns into the outlet of her father’s sexual attention, driving her into various modes of self-harm. Soon, it’s evident that the girls cannot keep shying away from their problems, and they must rush to reunite and save each other.

Speak by Laurie Halse

Book jacket for Speak by Laurie Halse. A drawing of a tree is overlaid on the face of a girl whose mouth is hidden by a white shadow.

Melinda walks into her first year of high school, knowing that the motto “Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say” is a lie. An outcast because she called the cops at a summer party, Melinda’s increasing isolation leads her to stop speaking entirely. Her art class becomes her one place of refuge, a place where she can process the trauma stemming from rape. The upperclassman who assaulted her still attends Merryweather High School, posing as much of a threat as when they first met. Another tragic encounter with him impedes her journey toward healing, but this time, she fights back and speaks up.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Book jacket for The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed. On a pink background, the symbol for women, a circle above a cross, is painted in black. The top of the circle turns into two hands crossing at the wrist.

The Nowhere Girls are a group of three girls fashioned to resist sexist culture at Prescott High in all ways—including boycotting sex with boys. One member is Grace Salter, the daughter of a reformed Southern Baptist preacher. After learning of the story of Lucy Moynihan, the previous tenant of Grace’s house, and how she was forced to move after accusing boys at Prescott High of gang rape, Grace starts the Nowhere Girls group with Rosina Suarez and Erin Delillo. Rosina is a queer punk girl in a strict, reserved Mexican immigrant family whose one goal is to become a musician. Erin loves marine biology and space movies, but a sneaking suspicion overcomes her, convincing her she may be an android. Each girl has their reasons for demanding justice for Lucy, dispelling rape culture in their school and community, and fighting the stigma.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book jacket for The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. On a black background is the silhouette of a handmaid in a conservative, long dress and a white hat. In front of the handmaid's face is a tiny white circle.

Before becoming the Handmaid to the Commander and his wife, Offred had a life of freedom and independence with her own husband and child. Now, as a Handmaid, she is only allowed to leave the home once a week to go to the food market and is prevented from reading. Offred’s value is directly tied to her fertility, so in this chilling dystopian story, Offred’s only hope is that the Commander impregnates her. Follow Offred’s struggle against this oppressive society in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Stay well-informed by adding these books to your TBR today!

To feel safe at all times is a basic human right; let’s work to make this world physically and mentally safe for everyone. Help is available at the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

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