Top Ten Books Dealing With Tough Subjects


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

I’M SO EXCITED I’M BACK TO DOING THESE! It actually required the CAPS. I’ve been away at school for so long and so busy that these have been impossible because I wasn’t able to visit all the blogs that visited me. But now I’m home and finals are over and I’M BACK!

This Top 10 list is probably the weirdest, most eclectic list I’ve ever put together, mostly because I’m not ashamed to admit I usually avoid books entirely about tough subjects. These are most certainly not all young adult books, and some of them are historical fiction because why cheat halfway?

whiteoleander1. White Oleander by Janet Fitch

I was given this book at way too young an age, but the details of the story stuck with me. This book is a visceral showing of the foster care system, neglecting mothers, violence and sex. I honestly can’t believe I finished it.

2. Beloved by Toni Morrisonbeloved

This is a classic for a reason. It makes this list because I didn’t expect it to affect me as much as it did. What do I know about slavery or rape or killing my own children? Nothing, thank God. But this book made my stomach churn and my eyes water and left me thinking, hard.

Who I Kissed3. Who I Kissed by Janet Gurtler

Look, a young adult book! When I heard the premise of this book–that the main character kills a boy with a kiss because there was peanut oil in her lipstick and he was allergic–I wasn’t sure it was going to go over well with me. I wasn’t sure it would work. But there is a real dealing with of grief throughout this book, both in terms of the main character, the victim’s family and even the main character relating this to her dead mother. It worked much better than I thought.

4. Nerve by Jeanne RyanNerve

I didn’t read this for handling of tough subjects, but I got it. Throughout this story, the main character deals with peer pressure, how far you’ll go for fame – and what happens when a room full of teens are given guns and told only one survives. My stomach was rolling with the action, and it stuck with me long after.

League of Strays5. League of Strays by L. B. Schulman

I’m still not sure how I feel about this book, but one thing’s for sure: this is one of the more candid, stomach churning pictures of bullying I’ve allowed myself to read.

6. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarryPushing the Limits

The levels of adoration I have for this book are limitless. Despite the fact that this is billed as a contemporary romance, it really is so much more. The themes of family, love (besides relationship!) and healing after a huge traumatic incident are really strong and truly touching.

Code Name Verity7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Technically, this is historical fiction. Personally, I think this is about so much more. I mean, the tagline is “I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.” This book deals with the bonds of friendship and the horrors of war all in one. I mean, the book OPENS with the main character being interrogated by the Gestapo. I very rarely cry for books, but this is one of those times.

8. The Last Song by Nicholas SparksThe Last Song

I know that these books are pretty cookie cutter and all, but this book had such a personal bent for me that by the end of the book I was bawling my eyes out. I still can’t read about the character of the little brother without sniffling.

mistress of rome9. Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Okay, this is historical fiction, so I’m kind of cheating. I mean, these “tough subjects” are somebody’s life. However, what I was struck by was a rather smaller part of the book, which is the physical and sexual abuse that Thea goes through at the hands of the Emperor. It was striking in how little it was underscore.

10. Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Uccistreams of babel

I had almost forgotten about these books before I went looking for ones to fill this list, and now I’m struck with the need to read them all over again. These books are striking examples of what happens when you find yourself at Death’s door, when your mother overdoses and leaves you to die on your own and just about love in the face of death in general. Both it and it’s sequel just floored me.

Stacking the Shelves #10

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews!

It has been FOREVER since I’ve done one of these, and this post will show it! This is one of the biggest Stacking the Shelves posts I’ve EVER HAD. So here we go!

For Review – eARCs

Splintered by A. G. Howard ~ Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Who I Kissed by Janet Gurtler ~ Wilde’s Meadow by Krystal Wade

Tournament of Chance by S. G. Rogers ~ Senshi by Cole Gibsen

Pantomime by Laura Lam

For Review – Physical ARCs

Infatuate by Aimee Agresti ~ Secrets by Tim Mettey


Cleopatra Confesses by Carolyn Meyer ~ Origin by Jessica Khoury

Starling by Lesley Livingston

ARC Review: “Who I Kissed” by Janet Gurtler

Who I Kissed by Janet Gurtler

Goodreads | Amazon

She Never Thought A Kiss Could Kill. . .

Samantha is new at school and just recently joined the swim team.  She’s been flirting with one of her teammates, Zee, who invites her to a party and just as quickly dumps her for another girl.  Hurt, but pretending not to care, she turns to his best friend, Alex, and gives him a kiss.  And he dies—right in her arms.  Alex was allergic to peanuts, and Samantha had eaten a peanut butter sandwich right before the party.  She didn’t know.  Overnight, Samantha turns into the school pariah and a media sensation explodes.  Consumed with guilt, abandoned by her friends, and in jeopardy of losing her swimming scholarship, she will have to find the inner-strength to forgive herself for the tragedy.

3 1/2 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for this eARC! This book was released October 1, 2012.

By the time I was approved for this on NetGalley, I had completely forgotten I’d requested it at all. I wish I remembered the reasoning behind it, but I don’t. This isn’t a typical book for me to pick up.

As it appears, this book has a very emotional story in it. Unlike some books I’ve read recently, it really does cut to the chase with Alex’s death and leaves a majority of the book to Sam dealing with her grief. (Books that don’t disperse with things they’ve already told us will happen in the blurb seem to be a trend for some reason lately.)

Sam herself is a pretty strong character. Her grief is real. That said, the way that she deals with it sometimes leaves the reader and well as her detached from the whole thing. I understand that it’s hard to write about a character being detached while keeping the reader connected, but by the end of the book I found myself connecting less and less with Sam–which is a problem when it’s her emotional story driving the entire thing.

However, the multitude of Sam’s emotional stories in this thing was even a bigger problem. This book is hardly just about Sam, Zee and Alex. It’s about her estranged relationship with her father, the fact that her mother died young and Sam never knew her and then on top of that all of the different grief storylines. There’s Sam trying to deal with the death herself (this includes her refusal to swim and a bad relationship), Sam dealing with her classmates and then Sam trying to deal with Alex’s family. Frankly, it’s all just too much. While I understand what Gurtler was trying to do and have the utmost respect for it, it didn’t come off as well as I’d have liked. Too many subplot lines are smushed into the cracks.

The rest of the characters didn’t really have the chops to back up these plot lines, either. Honestly, the character with the most pop was Sam’s crazy, amazing aunt and her dog. At times I felt closer to the characters who were dead, Alex and Sam’s mom. Several more minor characters get more face time than Zee, despite Sam’s continued affirmations that he’s important. Once again, with all the different plot lines, there were too many characters with too many good, deep ideas to all fit into one 312 page book.

I will say, though, that the story still packs an emotional punch. I felt for each character every step of the way, even if I was more connecting to my own feelings of lost than the ones being portrayed in the pages. Not one of the topics dealt with in this book is an easy one, and each one is important. It also wasn’t your typical high school drama story, even if some of the background characters did fall into cliches. They weren’t important enough for me to really care, and they constructed fast stereotypes so that Gurtler could get on with the story.

All in all, I would recommend this to lovers of YA contemporary novels who want larger themes than just romance. I think fans of authors such as Sarah Dessens would absolutely adore this one. I enjoyed this one as much as I did because of how different it was from my normal reading, and the attempt to make it about so much more then just romance.