Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Dealing With Tough Subjects

Top 10 Tuesday newTop Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week.

This week’s theme is Top Ten Books Dealing With Tough Subjects. Downer topic, right? And yet, I think I’ll have an easier time coming up with books to include this week than I did for last week’s topic about “light & fun” reading. Yes, my book tastes tend toward the dark, serious, emotional, and devastating. So here we go:

Thirteen Reasons Why

1) Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: This thoughtful and thought-provoking young adult novel is a powerful look at what drove a teen-aged girl to suicide.


2) Room by Emma Donoghue: This was a really tough one to read. Narrated by a five-year-old, Room‘s look at the tiny world of a kidnapped woman and the son born during her captivity is painful yet captivating.

A Monster Calls

3) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: This book dealing with a child’s loss of a parent is beautiful and shocking, with absolutely gorgeous ink illustrations throughout. (You can read my review here.)

The Fault in Our StarsBefore I Die

4) Two extraordinary books dealing with teens with cancer:  The Fault In Our Stars by John Green — this story of two teens figuring out love while battling terminal cancer made me cry harder than anything I’ve read in years. And Before I Die by Jenny Downham — about a girl with a list of what she wants to experience in life while she still can, including riding on a motorcycle and falling in love. Powerful, sad, lovely.

One True Thing

5) One True Thing by Anna Quindlen: Another book revolving around losing a loved one to cancer, which is clearly a hot-button book topic for me. Pretty much all a book has to do is mention the word cancer and I lose it. The intersection of life experiences and reading, once again. This story of an adult daughter caring for her dying mother is a heartbreaker. (The book is much better than the movie, if you ask me.)

White OleanderLanguage of Flowers

6) Two difficult books exploring the fate of girls abandoned to the cruelties of the foster system: White Oleander by Janet Fitch and The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Both are difficult to read, but worth it.

Sarah's Key (2)A Thread of Grace

7) I debated which of several recent and deeply affecting Holocaust-related books to include. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay is shocking and moving, and explores a piece of Holocaust history that I haven’t seen dealt with in fiction previously. A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell looks at events in northern Italy during WWII, and is just incredible.


8) Stolen by Lucy Christopher: Telling the story of a girl kidnapped and held in isolation for months, Stolen is sad and moving, and truly explores the victim’s psyche as she struggles both for freedom and for meaning.

You Against MeThe Lovely Bones

9) Two books dealing with rape and its impact: You Against Me by Jenny Downham — another Jenny Downham selection! This author does not shy away from hard topics. In You Against Me, siblings of a rape victim and her attacker find themselves drawn together even as they try to piece together what happened and what the ramifications for their families will be. And of course, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: An upsetting, hard-to-read book about a young victim of a brutal rape and murder. Yet another one where the movie didn’t live up to the book.

The Things They Carried

10) Finally, on the experience of war: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This collection of interwoven stories portraying soldiers serving in Vietnam and the life-changing experience of being at war is, rightfully, now a part of many high school reading lists. Unforgettable.

I cheated a bit, since I had a hard time narrowing down my list to just ten. These are among the books that have made a lasting imprint on me, as a person and as a reader. Not light or easy, but certainly important.

And now I’m thoroughly depressed and in desperate need of one of my books from last week’s list. Who borrowed my copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? I need it, stat!

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16 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Dealing With Tough Subjects

  1. I’ve only seen the movie of The Lovely Bones, but it was heart wrenching enough. I ended up disliking Thirteen Reasons Why, sadly. Thanks for sharing!

    • I read Alice Sebold’s non-fiction book, Lucky, which tells of her own experiences as a rape survivor. Very powerful and moving as well.

  2. I am having such a hard time with this topic, so much so that I plan on venturing off on something slightly different

  3. The only ones I’ve read on this list are The Fault in Our Stars and Sarah’s Key. But you’ve peaked my interest for Thirteen Reasons Why (I’ve seen so many people add this to their TTT list!), The Lovely Bones, White Oleander, Before I Die, and A Monster Calls.

    • Ha. The imagery of the outback has really stuck with me from Stolen — the harshness of the landscape, the impossibility of escape. I loved how the author gets the readers to buy into the Stockholm syndrome too — it’s hard to take a step back and say, wait, this guy is a kidnapper! by the end.

  4. Hi, thanks for visiting my blog (BiblioAddicted), I saw Sarah’s Key as a film a few months ago, it was really poignant, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since. The Fault in our Stars just keeps popping up everywhere, so that’s another added to my wishlist. I didn’t mention this on my post, but though it’s a fantastic book I ended up in therapy after reading The Lovely Bones (long story about the death of my brother) which was a good thing in the end, but I must be honest it’s a relief to hear the film is not as good as I don’t think I could bear to watch it.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Even fantastic books can really knock us for a loop on a personal level when the subject hits so close to home. For me, I have an especially hard time with books dealing with cancer, and One True Thing was probably the hardest, as I lost my mother to cancer and it just brought up so many memories. Thank you for your comments, and thanks for stopping by!

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