If you are in danger or have witnessed abuse please call:
- National Domestic Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE; if you are Deaf, Use TTY 1-800-787-3224
- Strong Hearts Hotline 1-844-7NATIVE
The purpose of this book list is to give voice to children who have endured the heartbreaking trauma of abuse. It’s designed to share the experiences endured by so many children and to engender compassion and understanding for others, but also to illuminate the healing process and show that children are more than just any trauma they may have endured.
I recognize that I was fortunate to be able to read these books from a position of privilege, having never personally experienced abuse or trauma and I realize that others will read them from a different perspective, or may not be able to read them at all.
It’s my hope that parents, teachers and other trusted adults will read these books alongside their children and discuss the events, as well as the emotions and questions that arise from them.
Note: this post contains affiliate links that may earn commission.
These are middle and upper middle grade books that address domestic abuse. In general, they are suitable for ages 9 and up. I’ve included age recommendations but you will want to use your own judgement as well.
For books appropriate for younger children try this list:
- Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition has a list of books to use with children ages 0-5 years old
The Blackbird Girls
by Anne Blankman
I could not put this book down. Valentina and Oksana both have fathers who work at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but they do not get along. When the unthinkable happens and there is an explosion at the plant, the girls are evacuated. Oksana has to leave her mother and father behind and instead accompanies Valentina and her mother to Leningrad. The story alternates between the two girls in 1986, and Rifka in 1941, who we later learn is Valentina’s grandmother. The girls learn secrets about their families, each other and must learn out how to trust each other. One of the secrets that is revealed is that Oksana has endured abuse at the hands of her father, and then later from her mother’s new boyfriend. Through her narration, Oksana slowly comes to understand that her parents have been lying to her and that she does not deserve the abuse. Ages 10 and up.
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
In Fighting Words 10 year old Della and her older sister, Suki, have recently been placed with a foster mom. Their mother is in jail, and their mother’s boyfriend has just been arrested. Della knows that something awful has happened to her sister and wants to protect her like Suki has always done for here. Della’s story involves sexual abuse and suicide, but Bradley’s storytelling is sensitive, even funny sometimes, and she creates characters that we can’t help but fall in love with. Highly recommended! Ages 11 and up.
Sure Signs of Crazy
by Karen Harrington
When Sarah was 2 years old, her mother tried to drown her. Now 12, and with her mother living in a mental health institution, Sarah goes from town to town, living with her alcoholic father. As she experiences her first crush, a changing body, and love of words, Sarah shares her thoughts in letters she writes to Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird. But Sarah also worries if she will grow up to be “crazy” like her mother or an alcoholic like her father. Ages 10 and up.
The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
by Jordan Sonnenblick
This is a really wonderful book! Maverick carries a sheriff’s badge with him, a gift from his father who died in Afghanistan. He hopes it will help him to be courageous and stand up to bullies, making school a better place for everyone. His mother’s boyfriends are abusive and alcoholic and Maverick is not always perfect himself. Sonnenblick has created relatable characters, written in laugh-out-loud humor and given the story a huge amount of heart. Highly recommended. Ages 9 and up.
The Paper Cowboy
by Kristen Levine
It’s 1953 and Tommy is the class bully. His difficult family life causes him to act out and when his sister is seriously injured while doing a chore that Tommy was supposed to do himself, things turn inside out. Tommy starts a paper route and becomes suspicious that one of his neighbors might be a communist. He makes the poor decision to frame the deli owner for communist activities. The effects of his actions are severe and Tommy must come to understand the consequences of acting without knowledge of the truth. Meanwhile, at home, Tommy endures family life with a depressed and increasingly abusive mother. When the family finally gets help, readers will get a small glimpse into the beginnings of psychotherapy in the 50s. Ages 9 and up.
by Rex Ogle
Ogle’s memoir is impossible to put down. Bi-racial Rex is starting sixth grade. His mom has enrolled him in the free lunch program; Rex feels embarrassed about his poverty and is already enduring racist bullying at school. Rex narrates his roller coaster life. His emotionally and physically abusive home life crashes up against his hopeful nature, his new friendship, and wisdom imparted to him by his Abuela. It’s a complex story with no easy answers, but still holds humor and optimism. Ages 10 and up.
The War that Saved My Life
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada, born with a club foot, has never left the apartment that she shares with her younger brother and cruel mother. When her mother sends her brother out of London to the countryside at the start of WWII, Ada runs away with him. In the country they begin to make a new life with Susan, a woman who reluctantly takes them in. The three of them form a bond and Ada finally gets to truly live. Ages 9 and up.
What Jamie Saw
by Carolyn Coman
What Jamie Saw opens up with a scene in which Jamie witnesses his stepfather throwing his baby sister. Fortunately, his mother catches her daughter. The rest of the story details Jamie’s subsequent fear and anxiety as he, his mother and sister leave to live elsewhere. Jamie is haunted by the prospect that his stepfather will find them. This short novel captures the intense emotions and confusion that can overcome children when they witness abuse and their desperate search to feel safe. Ages 9 and up.
One for the Murphys
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Carley is placed in a foster home after she experiences domestic violence and although her new foster mother is kind, Carley is unable to let go and accept this kindness and stability as her new reality. Carley remains strong, making a new friend at school and demonstrates wit and humor. She finally warms up to the Murphy family and their boys just as her mother re-enters her life. Having no experience with the foster system don’t know if the author adequately depicts its realities; that may be a topic for further discussion. Ages 10 and up.
A Game of Fox and Squirrels
by Jenn Reese
After an abusive event, Sam and her sister, Caitlin, are sent away to live with their Aunt Vicky and her wife, Hannah, in rural Oregon. Sam simply wants to return to L.A., while her sister is more accepting of the loving home Vicky and Hannah provide. Vicky gives Sam a card game, “A Game of Fox and Squirrels.” On the cards are images of animals in costumes. Soon, a real fox and squirrels visit Sam and challenge her to a mysterious game. Reese has masterfully written a story of the psychological effects of trauma on children without ever describing the actual physical abuse the two girls experienced. Ages 10 and up.
The Star Outside My Window
by Onjali Q. Rauf
Rauf’s touching story is full of memorable characters. Aniyah and her younger brother, Noah, have been running, with their mother, from their abusive father for a while. But now, their mother has died. Aniyah and Noah are placed in a foster home and Aniyah has not spoken since. Aniyah believes that one of the stars she watches is actually her mother and she sets out to get the Royal Observatory in Greenwich to name a new star after her. The journey in which she then goes on is both heart-breaking and empowering. Ages 9 and up.
The Ship We Built
by Lexie Bean
5th grader Rowan doesn’t feel like anyone understands him. He starts writing letters and sends them off attached to balloons. Rowan is a transgender boy, but everyone still sees him as a girl and he doesn’t know how to tell someone that his father comes into his bedroom at night (the sexual abuse is not described). His new friend, Sofie, starts to see him for who he is, and their friendship grows, offering Rowan one way to start healing and speaking up. The topics addressed in this extraordinary novel are difficult but it is important that we see them. Ages 10 and up.