Top Ten Tuesday #9 - Top Ten Books Dealing With Tough Subjects

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Top Ten Books Dealing With Tough Subjects. There are many, many good Issue books, but these are the ones that really got to the heart of me.

#1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The first ten lies they tell you in high school. "Speak up for yourself--we want to know what you have to say." From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. 

In Laurie Halse Anderson's powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

I read this book years ago, and it still remains a novel that brings to my knees, metaphorically. It's simple, powerful, and so well-written. Anderson can write, and though she has many novels, this will always remain her best.

#2. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

Oh, Elizabeth Wein, you know how to break a heart. With just a phrase, be it "Kiss me, Hardy" or "fly the plane, Maddie" or even "I have told the truth." you can convey so much. This book, to me, is about true friendship, real love, honor, and sacrifice. It's brutal and beautiful and so hard to read, from the casual mentions of torture, to the lengths these two girls will go to for one another.

#3. Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner

Set in New York's Russian émigré community, Vaclav & Lena is a timeless love story from a stunningly gifted young novelist.

Vaclav and Lena, both the children of Russian émigrés, are at the same time from radically different worlds. While Vaclav's burgeoning love of performing magic is indulged by hard-working parents pursuing the American dream, troubled orphan Lena is caught in a domestic situation no child should suffer through. Taken in as one of her own by Vaclav's big-hearted mother, Lena might finally be able to blossom; in the naive young magician's eyes, she is destined to be his "faithful assistant"...but after a horrific discovery, the two are ripped apart without even a goodbye. Years later, they meet again. But will their past once more conspire to keep them apart?'

I read this book over a year ago, but I think about it weekly, still. It made my heart hurt. This book... wow. For just being 272 pages, this is a lot of book. My heart grew three sizes (Oh, Vaclav) and I was entirely charmed by this story. This was beautiful and the ending was particularly poignant and moving.

#4. Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith

 Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate Lukas will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won’t be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can’t he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*
*also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.

Hilary T. Smith is a force to be reckoned with. This book is made of Tough Subjects - death, murder, grief, family alienation, drugs, mental issues... and for the most part, this is an author that carries them off so humanly.  Wild Awake is a whirlwind of a novel and if I can ever coherently discuss it, the review will come. And it will be glowing.

#5. If I Stay/Where She Went by Gayle Forman

 It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future-and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

Both If I Stay novels are listed but really, Where She Went was more of a Tough Subject read for me. Adam is wrestling with human issues, whereas Mia's struggles in book one were more.. supernatural? His sadness, ambivalence and depression are horrifically sad to read about because you know he used to be different than how he is now.

#6. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien


They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.

I had to read this book as part of an AP class in high school and it haunts me. The sadness, the boredom, the humanness and the inhumanity of what these men went through... I had to read certain sections for class, but it was my choice to read the entire thing. It's resonated with me ever since.

#7. If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

 A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

The military and vets are close to home for me; my brother is a two-time Marine veteran. I loved how much depth and thought went into If I Lie. It made me think, it made me cry, and it brought up certain things that need to focus more on in daily life.

#8. Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

In the wake of the post-9/11 sniper shootings, fragile love finds a stronghold in this intense, romantic novel from the author of Break and Invincible Summer.It's a year after 9/11. Sniper shootings throughout the D.C. area have everyone on edge and trying to make sense of these random acts of violence. Meanwhile, Craig and Lio are just trying to make sense of their lives.

Craig’s crushing on quiet, distant Lio, and preoccupied with what it meant when Lio kissed him...and if he’ll do it again...and if kissing Lio will help him finally get over his ex-boyfriend, Cody.

Lio feels most alive when he's with Craig. He forgets about his broken family, his dead brother, and the messed up world. But being with Craig means being vulnerable...and Lio will have to decide whether love is worth the risk.

This intense, romantic novel from the author of Break and Invincible Summer is a poignant look at what it is to feel needed, connected, and alive.

Hannah Moskowitza, you are a liferuiner. And I mean that in the best of ways. It is one of the biggest sorrows of my life that I will never be able to write as well as this woman does. The strength of her characters, their struggles and small triumphs... brought me to tears. Not many books have taken on snipers, especially ones that targeted American citizens, but Moskowitz has no fear.

#9. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Ann Brashares comes the welcome return of the characters whose friendship became a touchstone for a generation. Now Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget have grown up, starting their lives on their own. And though the jeans they shared are long gone, the sisterhood is everlasting.

Despite having jobs and men that they love, each knows that something is missing: the closeness that once sustained them. Carmen is a successful actress in New York, engaged to be married, but misses her friends. Lena finds solace in her art, teaching in Rhode Island, but still thinks of Kostos and the road she didn’t take. Bridget lives with her longtime boyfriend, Eric, in San Francisco, and though a part of her wants to settle down, a bigger part can’t seem to shed her old restlessness.

Then Tibby reaches out to bridge the distance, sending the others plane tickets for a reunion that they all breathlessly await. And indeed, it will change their lives forever—but in ways that none of them could ever have expected.

As moving and life-changing as an encounter with long-lost best friends, Sisterhood Everlasting is a powerful story about growing up, losing your way, and finding the courage to create a new one.

Growing up doesn't just stop when you hit a certain age. It's a lifelong process, and Brashares takes her adult characters on as many risks and struggles as she did when they were teens. Life is not always perfect or happy, and Sisterhood Everlasting isn't afraid to do what you least expect.

#10. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

There are some things you can’t leave behind… A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

Neglect and abuse are hard to read about. And Murdoch spares no punches in this look into the difficult lives of Carey and Jenessa. It's an ultimately uplifting novel, but there are darker themes and events that take place.

Honorable mention: Without Tess by Marcella Pixley, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr


  1. GREAT list -- so many I want to read -- where to start? (I think Code Name Verity will be first...)

    1. Yes! Read CNV first. It's so good and I would love to hear what you thought. I'm dying for Wein's forthcoming book - it's called Rose Under Fire, about and American airwoman and it takes place in Ravensbrück.

  2. I read The Things They Carried in high school too, and that was one of the few books that has stuck with my after all these years.
    Code Name Verity and If I Stay both did a number on me as well.
    I CAN'T WAIT for Wild Awake. I feel like I've been looking forward to it for forever.

  3. I haven't seen so many of these titles on other lists when they SHOULD be. Gone, Gone, Gone is a masterpiece, I loved Wild Awake, and CNV is totally a tough book to get through. Great list, Jessie!(:

  4. Great picks! If I Lie is on mine also(:


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