Far from being merely a source of entertainment, it is through storytelling that culture and beliefs are framed, reinforced, and transmitted. More than that, stories have the power to fire the imagination and inspire new thoughts and ideas and thus shape – or reshape – the perspective of individuals, communities and cultures about everything from tradition to gender.
In recognition of the power of storytelling to inspire change, The Pixel Project has put together our 2017 selection of 16 books or book series that depict violence against women and girls. Some of these stories are popular fiction while others are strictly non-fiction. Nevertheless, all of them will educate the reader in some way about violence, rape culture, cultural mores and misogyny.
The books and book series in this list have been selected from a wide range of genres including thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, and investigative journalism. They all show a common trend of depicting entrenched and pervasive violence against women and sexism in the diverse societies and worlds that they portray while offering threads of hope as people and characters fight for a world where women and girls are free from abuse.
This list is by no means complete as there are hundreds of books out there that deal with violence against women in its various forms. However, we hope that these 16 books and series will be a starting point for you, as they have for others over the years, to push for change in your community and culture.
Introduction by Anushia Kandasivam and Regina Yau; Written and compiled by Anushia Kandasivam and Regina Yau
Book Selection #1: A Safe Place (1997) by Maxine Trottier
This children’s book is about a little girl Emily who, together with her mother, goes to live in a shelter to escape her abusive father. At first Emily is scared of the new place and people but soon finds that the adults are kind and the children are friendly. Told from the child’s perspective, this book is for five-to seven-year-olds who may be experiencing similar circumstances and aims to teach them that there are places that are safe and that there are people, both adults and children, who understand what they have been and are going through and are ready to offer support.
Book Selection #2: The “Cincinnati” series (2014 – ) by Karen Rose
The Cincinnati thriller series, comprising Alone in the Dark, Closer Than You Think and Every Dark Corner, follows two FBI special agents as they work to find young women and children who have gone missing as victims of a human trafficking ring. The series explores the dark and frightening underbelly of society, bringing to light some horrible truths about child pornography, human trafficking, and drug abuse and dependence. It also showcases characters who refuse to give up and who fight to reclaim their agency and freedom, recover from trauma, and help others in similar situations.
Book Selection #3: The “Courtyard of The Others” series (2013 – 2017) by Anne Bishop
The Courtyard of The Others series revolves around Meg Corbyn, a young woman who is a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet who can see the future when her skin is cut. Meg’s Controller keeps her and other cassandra sangue enslaved so he can have full access to their visions in order to sell them to the highest bidder. When Meg escapes her owner and seeks refuge with the Others (including vampires and werewolves) who rule the earth, she sets in motion a tsunami of social change in the world. Through Meg’s story, Bishop deals with gender-based violence head on, including rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, slavery, and human trafficking; and she does so in powerful and thoughtful ways that make no bones of the fact that male violence and misogyny perpetuate violence against women.
Book Selection #4: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (2014) by Genevieve Valentine
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is award-winning science fiction and fantasy author Genevieve Valentine’s vivid reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as flappers during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan. In this story, the main character Jo and her eleven sisters are controlled by their distant father who subjects them to financial and emotional abuse – aspects of domestic violence that are seldom addressed, much less explored, in books. Valentine’s deft depiction of the relationships between Jo, her sisters and her father show just how complex and damaging domestic violence can be, no matter what form it takes.
Book Selection #5: Hominids (2002) by Robert J. Sawyer
Hominids is the first book in award-winning Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax series, which centers around Ponter Boddit, a Neanderthal physicist from a parallel earth where Neanderthals were not subsumed by homo sapiens and have gone on to develop a radically different civilisation in which sexuality is fluid, gender equality is the norm and there is no rape. When he accidentally crosses into present-day earth, he ends up being accused of murder. Through this book, Sawyer does not just offer a vision of what a more equitable and less violent world might be like but also explores the issue of rape with respect and compassion through the main female character, Mary Vaughn, who survived a rape and continues to deal with the consequences of the attack throughout the book.
Book Selection #6: How to Run With a Naked Werewolf (2013) by Molly Harper
How to Run with a Naked Werewolf is the third book in Molly Harper’s Naked Werewolf series. The story opens with Tina Campbell, lately the human pack doctor for a community of werewolves, on the run from her abusive husband who has been relentlessly tracking her down since she fled their home. With the help of an anonymous code-named benefactor from a safety network specialising in relocating domestic violence survivors as well as a werewolf detective and the werewolf community she serves, her husband meets his comeuppance in the most satisfying way. Harper does not sugarcoat the danger and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced by survivors and while the story seems fluffy, it treats domestic violence and its consequences seriously.
Book Selection #7: The “Lily Bard” series (1996 – 2007) by Charlaine Harris
Charlaine Harris is a prolific urban fantasy and mystery author who is perhaps best known as the author of the Southern Vampire Mystery series upon which the HBO vampire series True Blood is based. However, perhaps the most harrowing and absorbing of all her works is the Lily Bard series where the titular heroine is a rape survivor who solves grisly murder mysteries in her adopted hometown of Shakespeare, Arkansas while rebuilding her life and grappling with her PTSD. Harris – herself a rape survivor – captures the ever-reverberating echoes of pain caused by the trauma of sexual violence while showing just how much grit and strength are needed to function and move forward after the attack.
Books Selection #8: Lucky (1999) by Alice Sebold
In this memoir, Alice Sebold looks back at the brutal rape she experienced while in university, its aftermath, and how it transformed her life forever. The memoir reads somewhat like detective fiction because Sebold, on the advice of one of her professors, strived to remember everything about the incident, her interactions with authorities, friends and family after the incident, and her feelings throughout. She explains how she was told she was ‘lucky’ because she was not killed and her attacker left evidence on her by beating her. This story provides invaluable insights into a survivor’s world and chronicles her long and arduous journey to recovery and saving herself from her trauma.
Book Selection #9: The “Mercy Thompson” series (20016 – ) by Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs’ werewolf-driven urban fantasy follows the adventures of Mercy Thompson, a coyote Shifter who was adopted into and raised by a werewolf pack but was sent away at sixteen when her foster father realised that his centuries-old son intended to marry her solely for breeding purposes. Throughout the books, Mercy battles against sexism and patriarchy as she educates her adoptive werewolf father and her werewolf husband about treating women with respect and as equals. Briggs also deals with the aftermath of rape with sensitivity when Mercy is raped, not just by tackling Mercy’s struggle with PTSD but also showing how family and community should ideally treat rape survivors.
Book Selection #10: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (2015) by Jon Krakauer
Between January 2008 and May 2012, hundreds of students in the highly-regarded state university in the college town of Missoula, Montana, USA, reported sexual assaults to the local police. Few of the cases were properly handled by the university and local authorities. In this dispassionate and meticulously researched book, acclaimed journalist Jon Krakauer investigates and studies acquaintance rape and the prevalent rape culture in the university, town and country, making it clear why rape is so prevalent on American campuses and why rape victims are so reluctant to report assault.
Book Selection #11: The “Orphan X” series (2016 – ) by Gregg Hurwitz
Bestselling high-octane thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz’s latest series features Evan Smoak who is a 21st century feminist James Bond complete with a mentor who instills respect for women in him as part of his education and training as a second-to-none spy. Although the series only has two books so far, Smoak has come up against – and dismantled – human trafficking rings and violent pimps. Also commendable is Hurwitz’s inclusion of a wide range of well-rounded female characters in both the civilian and lone spy parts of Smoak’s double life, including a single mother who is also a district attorney, a sociopathic female spy and female clients who are tougher than they look.
Book Selection #12: “Push” (1996) by Sapphire
Push is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Precious Jones, who lives in Harlem, New York with her abusive mother and is functionally illiterate, obese and pregnant with her second child, the result of rape by her father. The novel details Precious’ journey from seemingly hopeless circumstances to learning how to read and write – as the book progresses, there is an improvement in the spelling and grammar – and her struggles through the welfare system, homelessness and escaping abuse. It also shows her growth in confidence and the realisation that despite what she has been told, her colour – Precious is African American – and her socioeconomic background are not necessarily the cause of her abuse. The 2009 film Precious was based on this novel.
Book Selection #13: The “Shifters” series (2007 – 2009) by Rachel Vincent
Rachel Vincent’s five-book Shifters series is about Faythe, a rare female werecat who rebels against the extreme and violent patriarchy of werecat culture to rise to become the first female leader of her pride. For new readers, the first book in the series may be off-putting because Vincent uses the book to establish just how misogynistic the werecat culture and community is and why Faythe was initially attempting to leave it. However, readers who persevere are rewarded with a powerful story that tackles everything from casual sexism and forced marriage to bride kidnapping and attempted rape – everything that Faythe has to deal with as she battles to stop other prides from taking over her own.
Book Selection #14: The “Soulwood” series (2016 – ) by Faith Hunter
Bestselling urban fantasy author Faith Hunter is best-known for her Jane Yellowrock series. However, it is with Soulwood, her latest series and a spinoff from the Jane Yellowrock series that she tackles everything from misogyny to church cult polygamy to violence against women. The not-quite-human lead protagonist Nell Nicholson Ingram was raised in a church cult for which underage – and even forced – marriage was the norm with men in their thirties and beyond taking multiple teenage wives and concubines. Nell rebelled against her fate and the series follows her progress as she helps her family and women modernise the church while working as a special agent on cases involving paranormal creatures.
Book Selection #15: The Female of the Species (2016) by Mindy McGinnis
While this young adult (YA) novel may seem like a revenge thriller on the surface – it is about a girl whose older sister was raped and murdered and who has hunted down the perpetrator who went free – the majority of the story is about how the protagonist Alex deals with the darkness inside her and the violence she experiences and delivers. The story has the standard YA fare of high school drama, jealousies, gossip and underage drinking, but it also features quite a bit of violence and examines the pervasiveness of rape culture among young people and learned misogyny in a straightforward manner, calling out double standards and toxic masculinity.
Book Selection #16: The “World of the Lupi” series (2003 – ) by Eileen Wilks
The werewolves in Eileen Wilks’ World of the Lupi series have some very unusual traits that set them apart from most werewolf-driven urban fantasy works. Firstly, their guiding deity is a woman. Secondly, their culture abhors and outlaws violence against women of any form even as their traditions are otherwise very patriarchal. Add in the main protagonist Lily Yu, a Chinese American detective who solves mysteries while dealing with episodes of PTSD from a traumatic childhood kidnapping and attempted rape, and you have a series that is as feminist as they come.
Book Cover Credits:
- A Safe Place – From “A Safe Place” (Amazon.com)
- Every Dark Corner – Courtesy of Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House
- Etched in Bone – Courtesy of Ace, an imprint of Penguin Random House
- The Girls At The Kingfisher Club – From “The Girls At The Kingfisher Club” (Goodreads)
- Hominids – Courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer
- How To Run With A Naked Werewolf – From “How To Run With A Naked Werewolf” (Goodreads)
- Shakespeare’s Counselor – Courtesy of Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House
- Lucky – From Wikipedia
- Silence Fallen – Courtesy of Ace, an imprint of Penguin Random House
- Missoula: Rape And The Justice System In A College Town – From “Missoula: Rape And The Justice System In A College Town” (Amazon.com)
- Orphan X – Courtesy of Gregg Hurwitz
- Push – From Wikipedia
- Alpha – From “Alpha” (Goodreads)
- Flame In The Dark – Courtesy of Faith Hunter
- The Female Of The Species – From “The Female Of The Species” (HarperCollins.com)
- Dragon Blood – Courtesy of Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House