Characters in the novels on this page will be dealing with some form of abuse, or will have abuse in their past. Various kinds of mistreatment are represented—physical, mental, or sexual.
In the descriptions, I try to indicate what type of abuse a character has dealt with if it isn’t physical. It isn’t included if that information is withheld for a long time in the novel.
Novels with Abuse or Trauma
The Bone People | Keri Hulme
Kerewin, who lives in an isolated house, finds a young boy, Simon, with an injured foot. She bandages it and has him stay for lunch. He cannot speak; he communicates with gestures and notes. It is the next morning before someone comes for him, his father’s cousin, Piri. Simon’s father Joe visits Kerewin to thank her for the help, and he tells her Simon’s story. He was the only survivor of a shipwreck, he gets into trouble a lot, and Joe took him in. Kerewin witnesses Joe get angry at Simon and threaten to beat him. Despite this, a closeness develops among them, and they make plans to see each other more.
We Were the Mulvaneys | Joyce Carol Oates
The Mulvaneys are a prominent family in rural New York. The parents run successful businesses and care for their property. The kids are popular and good in school. After a Valentine’s dance, their seventeen-year-old daughter Marianne is raped by Zack, a football star. When this becomes known to her family, it has a profound effect on everyone. It precipitates alcoholism, plans of revenge, and the fracturing of the family.
Bastard Out of Carolina | Dorothy Allison
Annie has her first child, Bone, at fifteen. Her second husband, Glen, abuses Bone sexually and physically. The family moves around a lot and is very poor because Glen can’t keep a job.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Maya Angelou
Three-year-old Marguerite and her brother Bailey, a year older, arrive at their grandmother’s to live. Their grandmother owns a general store, a hub in the black community. One day, their father arrives and takes the children back to their mother and her boyfriend Mr. Freeman. Marguerite has a traumatic experience that makes her stop speaking for years.
Ellen Foster | Kaye Gibbons
Ellen remembers her past with her abusive, alcoholic father and overwhelmed mother. She also describes some scenes with her present foster family. Her living arrangements changed several times in a few years.
David Copperfield | Charles Dickens
David, now an adult, narrates his life story from boyhood in Blunderstone, England. His father dies before his birth. His mother begins keeping company with Edward Murdstone, a cold, autocratic man. After they marry, David is sent away to boarding school where he is mistreated further, although a friendship with an influential boy, Steerforth, improves things somewhat. David’s troubles continue when he gets sad news from home, and he has to find somewhere to live.
The Kitchen God’s Wife | Amy Tan
Winnie Louie is a Chinese immigrant in America. A friend persuades her to tell all her secrets to her grown daughter, Pearl. Winnie tells her life story from childhood until Pearl’s birth. She relates how she came to be married, her husband’s role in the war against the Japanese, and the abuse she suffered at his hand.
Tender is the Night | F. Scott Fitzgerald
Rosemary Hoyt, a seventeen-year-old actress, is in a French coastal town. She meets Dick Diver, an older married man, and she falls in love with him. Abe North, a friend of Dick’s, gets mixed up in a scheme that leads to violence, prompting a hysterical scene between Dick and his wife, Nicole. The narrative continues with the history of Dick and Nicole’s relationship, including her abusive past.
The Color Purple | Alice Walker
Fourteen year old Celie writes letters to God about her life. She was raped by her stepfather and he threatened her not to tell anyone but God. She is essentially sold to a man who beats her often. Celie is a hard worker and struggles thru her oppression.
Sophie’s Choice | William Styron
Stingo is an assistant editor at a publishing firm who wants to be a writer. At his boarding house, he meets Sophie and Nathan. Sophie is a gentile, but she ended up at Auschwitz. Nathan is a manic-depressive schizophrenic with drug and alcohol issues, and is abusive to Sophie. They become acquainted as Stingo tries to write a novel.
Their Eyes Were Watching God | Zora Neale Hurston
Janie’s nanny encourages her to marry Logan even though she doesn’t find him attractive. They get married but she leaves him for Joe, a man who plans on becoming an important figure in an all-black community. Their relationship deteriorates and becomes hostile.
Hatter Fox | Marilyn Harris
Hatter is a seventeen-year-old Navajo girl in a reformatory. She comes to the attention of Teague, a doctor from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. When he starts checking up on her, he finds she is violent and unmanageable. She is harshly punished and mistreated at the reformatory. Teague tries to make some kind of connection with Hatter in the hope of improving her life.
The Women of Brewster Place | Gloria Naylor
This novel tells the stories of seven women who live on a dead end street, Brewster Place. They all have had difficult lives, and some have experienced tragedy or various kinds of abuse.
Breath, Eyes, Memory | Edwidge Danticat
In 1980s Haiti there is widespread poverty and an oppressive government. Sophie, twelve, lives with her aunt in better conditions than many because her mother, Martine, sends them money from New York. Martine was raped at sixteen, resulting in Sophie’s birth. She left Haiti to escape from her pain. She sends for Sophie to come to the United States. When Sophie grows up she falls in love with a neighbor, Joseph. Her mother “tests” Sophie’s virginity to ensure she hasn’t slept with Joseph.
Montana 1948 | Larry Watson
David Hayden, in his fifties, relates the shocking events that took place in his family when he was twelve. David’s father, Wesley, was the sheriff of their town, Bentrock. His uncle Frank was a war hero and doctor. When a Native American woman, Marie, who looks after David sometimes comes down with a sickness, David’s mother suggests calling Frank. Marie has a strong reaction, and makes accusations about him.
Speak | Laurie Halse Anderson
It is Melinda Sordino’s first day of high school. She doesn’t fit in with any group, and her middle school friends now shun her. Melinda does well in art, but her grades are below usual in everything else. It seems that Melinda called the police at a party for an unknown reason, and this has alienated her from her peers.
Beautiful Joe | Margaret Marshall Saunders
Beautiful Joe is a medium sized brown dog, part bull terrier and part fox terrier. Joe now lives in comfort with an owner he loves, but it wasn’t always that way. He narrates his life story beginning with his mother and his life as a puppy. Joe has endured a lot of suffering in his life.
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