Child abuse is a difficult topic to approach for many of us, but the reality is that it is far too widespread. For too many children, it also goes undetected, underestimated or ignored. Their abuser may be a relative, a neighbor, an authority figure, a friend. Whether physical, sexual or emotional, abuse in childhood has been linked to mental illness, maladaptive social relationships, addiction, and, sadly, further cycles of abuse. For this reason alone, a discussion is imperative and courageous.

For those of us fortunate enough to have not experienced such trauma, it can be hard to imagine, much less understand, the lifelong challenges many victims of childhood abuse face. One way to begin building a bridge is to hear their stories. Some of these stories offer surprising and powerful messages of profound hope and inspiration. Just as a cancer survivor or recovered addict can find hard-won happiness in a new life, so too can the survivors of childhood abuse. Yet, even those who continue to struggle have much to offer us in perspective.

Here we have an assortment of literature, ranging from deeply personal memoirs to nail-biting thrillers to coming-of-age stories to historical novels. Whether fiction or nonfiction, these books offer a glimpse into the damaged and delicate past, the struggle to overcome it, and the many paths toward transformation and renewal.

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker | Doubleday

This nonfiction pick is particularly somber since it’s a true story; a journalist, Robert Kolker, chronicles a family’s experience with schizophrenia, PTSD and abuse in which almost every member becomes diagnosed with a species of mental illness. The story is a hard-hitting one, but an eye-opening depiction of a little-discussed topic. The Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health in investigations into the genetic origins of schizophrenia. To see illness and abuse run so rampant in a family, and witness the results, is as heartbreaking as it is groundbreaking. (Read our review here.)

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Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie | Dutton

A bestselling, extremely popular, and expertly written novel, this bold offering has earned high praise and won accolades since publication. It begins in post-WWII Japan with Nori, the abandoned daughter of a woman from a well-to-do Japanese family and an African American soldier. Nori’s racial background brings her family so much shame that she is condemned to the attic and neglected. Suffering criminal abuse, our protagonist questions who she is and what she deserves, hoping to eventually experience love in any form. An unexpected visitor chooses to show Nori kindness and inspires her to fight for her freedom, and their special bond gives her strength and hope. (Read our review here.)

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Her Mother’s Grave By Lisa Regan | Grand Central

This is a thriller about murder, but on a deeper level, it is a book about a woman overcoming the demons in her past and becoming stronger for it. In this installment of her Josie Quinn series, Regan demonstrates how surviving a horrendous childhood made her protagonist into a tough-as-nails police chief. In Her Mother’s Grave, the decrepit bones of a 19-year-old girl are found buried in the exact location where Josie’s father committed suicide. Even more strange is the fact that the girl’s name and birthdate were exactly the same as Josie’s abusive mother. This far-from-coincidence incites the discovery of horrific truths that shed light on a painful childhood but help an adult navigate her future. (Read our review here.)

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The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman | Harper

This book is based on the real story of the author’s mother, which adds a poignant edge to an already-heartbreaking read. Elodie is an orphan; or so she thinks. She knows nothing else as she grows up taught by nuns in 1950s Quebec, relatively securely. Then, after shifting government powers change a few key laws, the orphanage becomes an asylum and the teachers become abusers. Elodie suffers intense trauma while realizing she has to fight for her future and proclaim the truth, even though her cause seems lost. Meanwhile, however, her mother is desperately attempting to get her back. Will they have their happy ending? Will the cycle of abuse end? (Read our review here.)

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Every Grain of Sand By David P. Wichman | W. Brand Publishing

Author David P. Wichman certainly had a long road to get to where he is now. He suffered molestation at the hands of a mentor and religious figure whom he respected. He grew up in a family where abuse was normalized. Then he made the brave, terrifying choice to flee his stepfather and go into the foster care system, a choice that paved the way for his future. But gratification wasn’t instant. From that point on things were far from easy, as he tells of struggles of all kinds; addiction, prostitution, jail, homelessness, and failed rehab. He did manage, finally, to turn things around and decided to write about the journey. His powerful memoir about recovery from abuse and other subsequent trauma, though painfully raw, is a true tale of redemption and hope. (Read our review here.)

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Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms | Sourcebooks Landmark

This novel has three sections, “Shift,” “Shed” and “Grow.”  That framework sets the tone for the whole story. Every Bone a Prayer is both shockingly mature and touchingly childlike, mimicking the natural world in all its wild cruelty and inspiring beauty. The main character, Misty, is a 10-year-old girl coming of age in the secluded Appalachian mountain area, secluded also in her inner world as she wrestles with familial difficulties. A friendship turns abusive subtly but savagely before she can shed the past and begin her final journey of growth. This final phase means everything after reading her story. (Read our review here.)

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Have You Seen These Children? By Veronica Slaughter 

A tale of complete betrayal, years of endurance, and gradual hope, Have You Seen These Children? is the true story of four siblings. They have a happy childhood until they are kidnapped by their father and undergo four years on the run. Their mother, devastated and helpless, does her utmost to reunite with them. The second eldest child is our author, Veronica, and she tells her tale from the sincere, innocent perspective of a child but also the now-wise-to-her-abuse adult. It’s a fascinating and powerful book, and ultimately, an uplifting one. (Read our review here.)

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Hollywood Park By Mikel Jollett | Celadon Books

The frontman of the indie band The Airborne Toxic Event has had to overcome a deeply traumatic childhood of abuse. He wrote about his experiences in a memoir that Kirkus Reviews calls, “A painstaking, emotional accounting of a tortured youth ultimately redeemed through music, therapy, and love.” The author and his older brother, Tony, were born into Synanon, a cult that initially helped addicts like their father, but was ultimately shut down decades later due to violent criminal activities and legal problems. All the children living there were abandoned by parents, fending for themselves and having nothing of their own. Gradually, Mikel comes into his own and grows to make individual decisions in a positive, stirring transformation. (Read our review here.)

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