Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Books Dealing With Tough Subjects


Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. More HERE.

It's been a while since I participated in Top Ten Tuesday, but when I previewed today's topic, I really couldn't resist. It's so interesting. So different! The Top Ten Books Dealing with Tough Subjects.

These are the books that make us squirm perhaps but that have many lessons to teach and many thoughts to provoke. They're also the books that we may appreciate but sometimes saying we "enjoyed" them feels wrong given the subject matter. I've learned a great deal from books like these throughout my reading life. Here are the top ten. Today, anyway.


There's a good chance you'll see a trend throughout many of the books I chose. Since the birth of my son, books that involve injustice, mistreatment, abuse, or hardships as they apply to children have become some of the hardest books for me to read.

Push by Sapphire - Abuse, neglect, poverty. The girl in this book endures it all but finds hope in school, learning, and her teachers who believe she can do more.

ROOM by Emma Donoghue - Held captive in a shed along with his mother, the narrator, Jack, broke my heart on several occasions, though the book does have a great ending.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - A young boy struggles to cope with the impending death of his mother. It made me do the ugly cry, but it was also a beautiful book in story and illustration.



The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanha - A Mauritian boy and a young captive from a WWII prison camp escape into the woods for a harrowing journey. A thin little book, a fast read, but nice writing and very affecting.

Sugar in My Bowl edited by Erica Jong - Sex is always one of those "tough" subjects. This collection of essays and stories made me laugh, cry, and cringe.

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon - Dealing with the military life and deployment, this collection of stories runs the gamut from thoughtful and hopeful to stories of jealous and betrayal. I found the collection as a whole really hit me harder than I'd expected as I usually steer clear of books about military life.




Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch - In dealing with the grief of losing her sister, Sankovitch chronicles her year of reading one book per day. I know, I hardly believed it either! This one was sad and hopeful, all at the same time. Another trend in these "tough subject" books.

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman - Maybe the quickest read on the list, Stuck in Neutral is a young adult novel about a boy with severe cerebral palsy who cannot move voluntarily but whose mind is sharp and alive. His father, a prize-winning poet, may be thinking of killing him to "put him out of his misery." It really made me think about what we consider "disability" and what lies beyond it.

Sherry and Narcotics by Nina-Marie Gardner - Train wreck! But a well-written and involving train wreck. The heroine makes bad decisions, drinks too much, has a silly relationship, but I rooted for her the whole way.

Stiff by Mary Roach - Cadavers! It's gross, it's enlightening and instructional, and it's one of my favorite non-fiction, popular science books EVER! A great Mother's Day gift (yes, to my mom several years ago).


How do you define a "tough subject" and what are some worthwhile books in this vein? 






23 comments:

  1. These are my favorite type of books. I don't know why and I don't want to know why ;)

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    1. Same here, Jennifer. I think the majority of the books I read fall into this category somehow.

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  2. i am so scared of reading Room, but i kind of want to. i know it's going to kill me, though. but if there's a good ending, i might have to give it a try. ~daphne

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    1. I was absolutely terrified to read ROOM. The subject matter is so heavy, but the book really is worth the read. I was on the edge of my seat!

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  3. Room is such a good one. I can't believe I forgot to add it to my list!

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    1. Melissa, it was one of the first ones that came to me. I originally tried listening to the audio and hearing the voice of a child telling the story was TOO MUCH FOR ME. Reading was much better though.

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  4. Oh, Room is a great one -- I too was totally freaked about reading it, but got a chance to see Emma Donoghue before and she made me feel 'safe' enough to give it a try. And it didn't kill my soul. Hooray!

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    1. Same here, Audra. And I should've YouTubed Donoghue beforehand to make me feel better. lol

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  5. Your list is perfect. There are so many books on here that I had forgotten about. "You Know When the Men are Gone" was definitely a tough read that left me with a lot to think about.

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    1. Thanks, Denise! It was a great book -- loved the interconnected short story format on that one. Very effective.

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  6. I think Salvage the Bones is a tough book for many and not because of the poverty and sexual abuse -- but because of the dog fighting. I love this book but find I always have to preface a recommendation with a warning about the dog fighting.
    Haven't tried Room. Looked at it and looked at it on the internet but never got around to it.
    Now more intrigued.

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    1. Barbara, that is a tough one. I've kept away from it precisely because of the dog fighting angle. I'm sure it's a great book, but I'll have to steel myself before I read it.

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  7. Push was such a hard read but a good one. Tough reads to me are ones in which my heart breaks over the subject matter. As a parent, I can't read a lot of books about orphans. :-( One book that's a tough read but I love with all of my heart is The Liar's Club by Mary Karr. Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison is another one.

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    1. Yes it was! I've heard lots of people say that Bastard Out of Carolina was heartbreaking but totally worth the read. I'll have to look into The Liar's Club.

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  8. I've only read one of those: You Know When the Men are Gone. It was definitely thought-provoking, often gut-wrenching subject matter but so, so well done.

    I think Holocaust/WWII memoirs are my most common tough reads, but I tend to love them because they often show not only the worst of humanity but the best, as well. I'm a huge admirer of people who found a way to draw on their inner strength and survive. I've always wondered how I would react from many angles. As a prisoner, would I find strength or wilt away? If I were living through daily bombing, how would I react? Would I have the courage to hide innocent people who were being senselessly murdered at risk of my own life?

    I need to read more from your list. Tolstoy and the Purple Shelf is on one of my shelves, somewhere and Room is on my wishlist but I think I've ignored most of the others.

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    1. Nancy, that's a tough topic category that I particularly favor, too. I went through a stint in grad school when it seems like I was reading a ton of those novels. One of my faves being The Book Thief of course, and on the non-fiction side, Night by Elie Wiesel.

      I hope you have good luck with these if you decide to try them!

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  9. I figured I would see Room on many lists. It was on mine, too! I love WWII books, so I'll have to check out The Last Brother.

    Thanks for visiting!
    Stephanie (Go Flash Go) @ Read, Rinse, Repeat

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    1. I hope you enjoy The Last Brother if you get around to it! It was really powerful and a really slim volume, so it's a very quick read.

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  10. I haven't read these books, back in the day when I read and reviewed The Blue Notebook I was pretty saddened and depressed about the subject material; I couldn't get the sickness of the world out of my mind. I decided that I really do not need to subject myself to that torture any longer =) So if it's a title that is specifically about something horrible and offers zero redemption etc I tend to stay away to preserve my sanity.

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    1. Marie, downers for the sake of downers are not on my to-read list either. All of these include some sort of redemption or hope.

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  11. I think you pretty much summed up how I would definite tough books to read. And you've listed several titles I would include on my list if I made one too. Push, most definitely. That really was difficult one to read--but oh so good! I don't think I'd list Stiff though--just because I found it more funny than tough. But I can see why it'd be included though.

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