Day late for Top Five Wednesday, but apparently Husband Units need “sleep” or some such nonsense that takes precedence to blogging.

There’s a time and place for every kind of book. Sometimes you want something that will make you laugh out loud and forget your troubles, a temporary escape into an alternate universe. But if we never confront life’s harsher realities, we wrap ourselves up an in impenetrable cocoon of protection. And while it may be more pleasant, that doesn’t make it any less of a lie. Life can suck. Sometimes it sucks a lot. Books can help us process and heal from the nastier parts of life, so here’s a few that take the proverbial bull by the horns.

The Mockingbirds  |  Daisy Whitney

At the prestigious Themis Academy, administrators trust their students to behave honorably. So when musically gifted student Alex Patrick is date-raped, she feels trapped in silence by the school’s culture and her own doubts about what even transpired that night. Her friends finally convince her to call upon the Mockingbirds, an underground student justice group that handles all the issues the school won’t acknowledge exist.

I picked up this book during the Borders closing sale (sad face) mostly because of the cover and the promise of allusions to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and was pleasantly surprised. Alex undergoes a struggle to understand that she was not at fault and she is, in fact, worthy of help – if not only for herself, but for the protection of future victims. Her love of music is tied in interestingly with her character development; her passion and ability to play rises and falls with her emotional journey. Her attacker’s trial by the Mockingbirds is tied up a little too conveniently to translate well to real life, but overall it was pretty solid for an impulse purchase. I actually can’t bring myself to get rid of it because I love the cover so much (it has this great square gloss texture you can’t see in pictures), so I’m making book art out of it pleasedon’thateme.

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The Invasion of the Tearling (Queen of the Tearling #2) |  Erika Johansen

When I tell people about this book, I tell them “Queen of the Tearling is pretty straightforward, but you’ll think the second book has taken an acid trip for a while. Don’t worry, it all comes together.” In short, Invasion has split storylines, and one of them takes a long, hard look at women’s rights. In a future America, government has relegated women to property status, and the protagonist (she’s not exactly a heroine) suffers at the hand of an abusive husband. Rape, birth control, sexual consent and gender relations translate through both storylines, but it is most starkly brutal in the future-America timestream. It’s worth noting that this is typically shelved in Adult Fiction, though the teenaged Queen Kelsea makes it compatible as a YA crossover for a mature-minded teen.

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Where You’ll Find Me  |  Natasha Friend

I just finished this middle-grade book, and I plan on writing a full-length review of it at a later date, i.e. whenever I get around to it. Protagonist Anna has just entered 8th grade, and confirms what we all know – that middle school can suck. Her best friend up and abandons her for no real reason, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The real gut punch is in Anna’s family life: on the heels of her depressed, divorced mother’s suicide attempt, she’s forced to take up residence with her dad and 24-year-old sorority girl stepmom, who already has a bouncing baby girl of her own.

Where You’ll Find Me looks at her mother’s illness, as well as Anna’s struggle to define herself as normal amidst decidedly not-normal circumstances. Angry at her mother’s actions, she rejects any attempt made to reach out to her, believing that it somehow lumps her in with her sick mother. It has several of the expected cliches, like “unpopular girls band together in an unexpected friendship,” but that doesn’t detract from it. I don’t have personal experience with many of the issues addressed, but it seemed to present an honest viewpoint of how a young girl might confront problems that are too much for even the adults.

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Tiger Lily  | Jodi Lynn Anderson

Disclaimer: I did not like Tiger Lily. But my specific reasons* do not keep me from recognizing that it is a book that many of you may enjoy. This Peter Pan retelling follows Tiger Lily (totes obvs), and while the ageless boy is a driving character, the hardest themes take place within Tiger Lily’s village. She rescues a shipwrecked English missionary, and while I’m a little fuzzy on remembering all the details, it basically comes down to he and other Englishmen attempting to “civilize” Tiger Lily’s tribe. They also take issue with Tic Toc, her adoptive father, who is the village shaman and a cross-dresser who mocks rigid ideas of masculinity. This book is sketched over the basic framework of the traditional Peter Pan story, but takes a far darker look at the world of Neverland.

“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve ever heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win.”

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Unwind  |  Neal Shusterman

While there are technically four books and a short story collection in the Unwind Dystology, the first can easily serve as a standalone since it was published 5 years before the back-to-back releases of its sequels. Unwind takes place in a near-future America, following wars fought over abortion. In a brutal compromise, parents now have the option to, instead of aborting an unwanted child, “unwind” them any time between the ages of 13-18.

This basically makes them a whole-body organ donor, as every part of their body is unravelled at the molecular level and kept alive for transplants, science, etc. While the concept of unwinding strikes us as horrific in the present day, it brings to mind topics like abortion, stem cell research, and a whole slew of medical ethics and right to life issues that are all too real.

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Honorable Mention for books I’ve already covered in-depth elsewhere. Don’t want to beat any horses to death.

*I’m pretty sure my dislike stems from the fact that Tiger Lily barely speaks two words the whole book (that may be a slight exagerration), and I definitely prefer a fast-talking, sassy heroine. She is strong and resilient, but not very chatty.

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