Tag Archives: trauma

Review: Hidden Truths by Elly Swartz

Hidden Truths by Elly Swartz

Hidden Truths
Elly Swartz
Delacorte Press
Published October 31, 2023

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About Hidden Truths

How far would you go to keep a promise? Told from alternating points of view, Hidden Truths is a story of changing friendships, the lies we tell, the secrets we keep, and the healing power of forgiveness.

Dani and Eric have been best friends since Dani moved next door in second grade. They bond over donuts, comic books, and camping on the Cape.

Until one summer when everything changes.

Did Eric cause the accident that leaves Dani unable to do the one thing in the world she most cares about? The question plagues him, and he will do anything to get answers about the explosion that injured her. But Dani is hurting too much to want Eric to pursue the truth–she just wants to shut him out and move on. Besides, Eric has a history of dropping things he starts. Eric knows that and is determined that this will be the one time he follows through.

But what if his pursuit brings him into direct conflict with another friend? Where does Eric’s loyalty really lie?

My Review

I’m trying to remember if I’ve read other contemporary middle grade books with multiple viewpoints in them, but I can’t think of any, besides maybe some of the Babysitter’s Club books? I’m sure there are others, but my mind is a blank right now.

At any rate, I found the back-and-forth points of view a cool addition to this book. It allows us to get two very different perspectives on what happened at the campsite. We also watch two characters process the same event very differently. Dani grieves over her injuries and fears about her recovery and what it all means to her daily life.

Eric has a more internal struggle. He wrestles with guilt over questions about whether he caused the accident and what to do about it if he did. He also faces ostracization and bullying at school as other students hear rumors about his possible culpability.

I really like the structure of this book and the fact that it addresses trauma without making the book feel dark and scary. Eric and Dani seem like ordinary kids who happen to go through something terrible and need to figure out how to navigate life on the other side. It’s super relatable and easy to read.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Eric is Jewish. Dani appears white. It isn’t labeled, but there are implications that Eric could have ADHD. It’s not labeled, but a few characters make comments about it. After her accident, Dani is a wheelchair user and does not have the ability to use her right arm due to nerve damage. She also has a broken leg.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
Eric holds hands with a girl briefly. She kisses him on the cheek.

Spiritual Content
Eric visits a chapel in the hospital and briefly compares it to his experience at his Temple. Eric prays and tries to bargain with God throughout the story, asking for God’s help to make sure Dani is okay and recovers quickly.

Violent Content
Eric witnesses an explosion and runs into a fire to save his friend, who is pinned under some cabinets. It’s a brief scene that he doesn’t revisit often. Students at school bully Eric. They say cruel things, and one boy slams his shoulder into Eric’s and knocks his books to the ground as he walks down the hall.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of HIDDEN TRUTHS in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Dark Room Etiquette by Robin Roe

Dark Room Etiquette
Robin Roe
Published October 11, 2022

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About Dark Room Etiquette

Sixteen-year-old Sayers Wayte has everything—until he’s kidnapped by a man who tells him the privileged life he’s been living is based on a lie.

Trapped in a windowless room, without knowing why he’s been taken or how long the man plans to keep him shut away, Sayers faces a terrifying new reality. To survive, he must forget the world he once knew, and play the part his abductor has created for him.

But as time passes, the line between fact and fiction starts to blur, and Sayers begins to wonder if he can escape . . . before he loses himself.

My Review

My feelings about this book range from strong to very strong. At the beginning, Sayers isn’t a very likeable guy. Sure, he’s not the one actively tormenting another boy in his class. He’s just the one standing by, watching it happen. He’s spoiled, rude, and unaffected by other people’s pain. We get to know this version of him over the first quarter or so of the book.

Then he gets kidnapped by someone who seems to be deeply unwell. At first Sayers refuses to cooperate with his abductor. But as time goes on and escape continues to be an impossibility, he does what he must in order to survive.

The book feels like an exploration of what trauma does to someone. Both in the way it breaks someone down, and in the way that it leaves permanent marks on that person’s life, even after the traumatic event is over.

I’m not at all an expert on trauma or how it affects anyone. I’ve watched someone close to me grapple with past trauma, and some of the things Sayers does and says were familiar to me because of that experience. I liked that the whole story wasn’t an exploration of the trauma itself. I liked that Sayers formed different relationships and that his relationships operated differently as he began to piece things back together. He valued different things. He wanted different things. But he also wasn’t capable of some of the things he’d been capable of before.

So there were lots of things I liked, but it was a hard book to read. I think the hardest part was witnessing the breakdown Sayers endures during his captivity.

Readers who enjoyed A LIST OF CAGES will enjoy DARK ROOM ETIQUETTE. I think fans of WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE by Kate McLaughlin should check this one out.

Content Notes

Content warning for drug use, bullying, torture, assault, murder, suicide, and references to sexual assault.

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

One significant minor character is Latine. Sayers’ best friend is bisexual.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to sex.

Spiritual Content
A classmate discusses her faith openly. Later, Sayers prays with a girl.

Violent Content
Sayers witnesses a boy bullying another student. A boy takes another boy into the woods, clearly intending to harm him. Sayers’ abductor hits him and keeps him chained or locked up, sometimes starving him and another person. Sayers discovers bodies of boys who were murdered. He witnesses someone die by suicide. He learns that someone sexually assaulted another person.

Drug Content
At the beginning of the book, Sayers prefers drugs that will make him feel amped up. Late in the story, he smokes weed, using it to calm himself down.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of DARK ROOM ETIQUETTE in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep by Laurie Faria Stolarz

The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep
Laurie Faria Stolarz
Wednesday Books
Published March 16, 2021

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About The Last Secret You’ll Ever Keep

Bestselling author Laurie Faria Stolarz returns with a thrilling novel where an eighteen-year-old girl’s search for answers lands her in one of the most terrifying situations imaginable.

Four days…
Trapped in a well, surrounded by dirt, scratching at the walls trying to find a way out.
Four days of a thirst so strong, that when it finally rains, I drink as much as possible from the dripping walls, not even caring how much dirt comes with it.

Six months…
Since my escape. Since no one believed I was taken to begin with – from my own bed, after a party, when no one else was home…
Six months of trying to find answers and being told instead that I made the whole incident up.

One month…
Since I logged on to the Jane Anonymous site for the first time and found a community of survivors who listen without judgment, provide advice, and console each other when needed.
A month of chatting with a survivor whose story eerily mirrors my own: a girl who’s been receiving triggering clues, just like me, and who could help me find the answers I’m searching for.

Three days…
Since she mysteriously disappears, and since I’m forced to ask the questions: will my chance to find out what happened to me vanish with her? And will I be next?

My Review

One of the things I really liked about this book is that there is no sexual trauma in it. I was nervous at first, picking it up, because I like this type of suspense, mystery, trauma recovery story, but I’m just really sensitive to sexual trauma, so I didn’t want to end up in over my head with this book. The good news is, I didn’t.

It’s an interesting story. For a long time, I felt unsure about Terra. It seemed plausible that what happened to her was in her head– not on purpose, but that it was the result of previous trauma. Even Terra herself sometimes doubted what she’d experienced. So I felt like the story kept a really good balance there, keeping me really uncertain where it was headed and what would be around the next bend, as a good suspenseful story should.

I also thought the timeline– some sections from the present and others from the past– added to the scattered feel of Terra’s mind. Her chat logs on the Jane Anonymous site added a lot, too, from giving her a safe space to share her feelings to also creating a strong support network.

I read THE LAST SECRET YOU’LL EVER KEEP pretty quickly, only stopping once (because I got food poisoning, gross). I think readers who enjoyed PAST PERFECT LIFE by Elizabeth Eulberg or THE LOST AND THE FOUND by Cat Clarke will enjoy this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Major characters are white or not described.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used just over a dozen times through the story.

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Descriptions of kidnapping. Graphic descriptions of hunger and severe thirst.

Drug Content
Terra attends a college sorority party held by one of her friends’ older sisters and drinks punch, probably containing alcohol.

Note: I received a free copy of THE LAST SECRET YOU’LL EVER KEEP in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.

Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Somebody Told Me
Mia Siegert
Carolrhoda Lab
Published April 7, 2020

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About Somebody Told Me

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.

But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

My Review

I am really struggling to write this review, not because the book was bad. It was a difficult read because of the subject matter, but the story was really compelling.

One of the things I struggled with was Aleks/Alexis’ character.On the one hand, I really enjoyed reading a book with a bigender character and I felt like the story showed Aleks/Alexis’ identity really well. I loved that their parents were supportive and champions for them but that they also were willing to step back and let Aleks/Alexis fight their own battles.

I also thought the exploration of the cosplay and Comic Con scene was compelling. This is a story that does not shy away from some of the harmful behaviors that can happen at those events, and while that was dark, it raised some really necessary ideas.

There were things that I found difficult to like– Aleks/Alexis was really prickly. It sometimes felt like they jumped to some really negative conclusions about people very quickly and that kind of harsh judgmental response grated. Aleks/Alexis also battles an incredibly negative and shaming inner voice that sometimes was hard for me to read, too. It showed how deeply hurtful the misgendering or transphobic words could be because of being coupled with this inner voice, but it sometimes was very difficult to read.

On the other hand– it does make sense that someone still processing and recovering from a sexual assault would have strong feelings of anger and lash out at people around them, so I feel like it was not out of place or arbitrary. It just challenged me as a reader.

I loved that the story showed how personal a faith experience can be– that some characters practiced a peaceful, loving and accepting faith even if others used their faith as a way of controlling people or a route to victimizing others.

Over all, SOMEBODY TOLD ME is a dark story that takes an unflinching look at abuse within the church and the harmful objectification and abuse of cosplay characters in a complex way with an ultimate message of hope, acceptance, and recovery from trauma.

Please read the content below for more information on potential triggers in this book.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 15 up.

Aleks/Alexis is bigender. At least two other characters identify as gay. Two others share kisses with a bigender character but don’t label themselves.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently until the end of the book, where there’s a more frequent use.

Romance/Sexual Content – Trigger Warning for sexual abuse, assault, and homophobic and transphobic comments.
Aleks/Alexis briefly describes their sexual history, including details about kissing and references to sex. Two boys kiss.

Aleks/Alexis has brief flashbacks to a toxic relationship and a sexual assault. Eventually the assault is described in more detail. (Details on the assault at the end of the review under Spoilers.)

A priest makes a somewhat vague confession about abusing a parishoner, saying he has given the person a “special Communion,” a code which the priest hearing the confession seems to understand means sexual abuse. Later, the priest makes overt statements about whom he abused and threatens to abuse someone else, grabbing them inappropriately.

The novel contains misgendering as well as several homophobic and transphobic comments as well.

Spiritual Content
Aleks/Alexis’ uncle is a Catholic priest who requires them to attend mass each week and hears confession of his parishoners. References to conversion camp.

Some characters in the story practice a rigid, fearful or harsh faith. Others practice a more loving, accepting faith that is still deeply important to them.

Violent Content
Police inspect the murder of a boy found strangled near the church. Brief descriptions of assault. Someone threatens to abuse a minor and brags about abusing others. A two teens are trapped inside a burning building.

Drug Content

Note: I received a free copy of SOMEBODY TOLD ME in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.


Aleks/Alexis experienced an assault at a comic con after a boyfriend pressured them to allow a crowd of 80 panel attendees to line up and, one at a time, pin them to the wall and kiss them for photos. It’s clear that Aleks/Alexis didn’t want or consent to this experience and that it as well as the toxic/abusive behavior of their boyfriend caused trauma.

Review: Accidental by Alex Richards

Alex Richards
Bloomsbury YA
Published July 7, 2020

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About Accidental

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

In a searing, ultimately uplifting story, debut author Alex Richards tackles a different side of the important issue that has galvanized teens across our country.

My Review

I did not anticipate how hard it would be to read a book like this while my stress level is already pretty high.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, though. Gun violence, and particularly a story about a toddler accidentally killing her mom, would always be a tough read. Johanna was two and a half when this happened. I have a child who’s two and a half right now, too, so it was hard to think about what it would be like for her to go through something like that, and then not have her mom there to comfort her. Ever again.

So yeah, ACCIDENTAL is a super emotional book. I liked Johanna a lot, though, and really identified with a lot of her emotions, from her frustration with her grandparents’ avoidance to her conflicting feelings about her dad, to her frustration with her best friend.

Packed on top of all of those things is Johanna’s first romantic experience. I thought the author did an amazing job balancing all the relationships and plot elements together, keeping them present but not letting them drown each other out or overwhelm the reader.

All in all, I think it’s really great to see a young adult book that focuses on this kind of gun violence and trauma. I think readers who enjoy books about characters facing down their trauma, such as WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE, will enjoy ACCIDENTAL.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Gabby’s dad is Jamaican. Leah is Jewish and bisexual. (Both are Johanna’s best friends.) Johanna has been adopted and raised by her grandparents.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently. Also some crude comments.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. One scene briefly describes them removing clothes, implying and then later stating they’ve had sex. Brief references to a girl having had sex with a girl.

Spiritual Content
Johanna’s grandparents are faithful church attenders and expect Johanna to go with them. After she learns about the true cause of her mother’s death, Johanna only feels judged by God, and it ultimately results in her withdrawing from church.

Her dad also references a positive relationship with God through his pastor and church as part of his recovery from drug addiction. Johanna questions that relationship later when it appears to lead him to do hurtful things.

Violent Content – Trigger Warning for Bullying and Gun Violence
Descriptions of an accidental shooting and Johanna’s imaginings of what might have happened.

Kids at school say cruel things to her. In one instance, two boys demand that a teacher search Johanna’s bag “just in case” she’s carrying a gun. A doctored photo of Johanna shooting her mother appears online and at school.

One man punches another man in the face.

Drug Content
Johanna takes Xanax from someone else’s prescription. At a dinner party with her friend’s family, she gets drunk. She learns that her father became a drug addict in prison, and that he used to sell pot.

Note: I received a free copy of ACCIDENTAL in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.

Review: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Cracked Up to Be
Courtney Summers
Wednesday Books
Published (re-release) February 4, 2020

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads

About Cracked Up to Be

When “Perfect” Parker Fadley starts drinking at school and failing her classes, all of St. Peter’s High goes on alert. How has the cheerleading captain, girlfriend of the most popular guy in school, consummate teacher’s pet, and future valedictorian fallen so far from grace?

Parker doesn’t want to talk about it. She’d just like to be left alone, to disappear, to be ignored. But her parents have placed her on suicide watch and her conselors are demanding the truth. Worse, there’s a nice guy falling in love with her and he’s making her feel things again when she’d really rather not be feeling anything at all.

Nobody would have guessed she’d turn out like this. But nobody knows the truth.

Something horrible has happened, and it just might be her fault.

My Review

I’m a fan of Courtney Summers’ writing and the often heartbreaking stories she boldly tells of girls who are angry and sad and recovering from trauma.

It’s interesting to me that there’s so much emphasis on the characters as unlikeable. I totally see why people classify them that way. And there’s one of her books where I really struggled with liking the main character, but it’s definitely not this one.

Parker’s clearly a mess and in the midst of a pretty sharp downward spiral. There’s a constant tug of war in her over punishing herself for her past mistakes and yet still wanting to be loved despite them, even though she doesn’t feel like she deserves it.

I’m often really moved by the community element in the stories I read, and the community around Parker in CRACKED UP TO BE definitely moved me. Her friends and teachers aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But they care about Parker, and in their sometimes weird, sometimes broken, sometimes imperfect ways, they continue to reach out to her and try to help her in her recovery. That really got to me. And in a way I thought it showed other sides of Parker than she wanted to show us in her version of her story.

I saw other readers comment that they were driven to know what had happened to Parker. It remains a mystery through most of the book, but it drove me forward. Her behavior convinced me that something terrible had happened, and I knew that either she would have to face it or be destroyed by it.

CRACKED UP TO BE is, at times, a difficult/dark read, but I spent every page rooting for Parker, hoping for her to find a breakthrough and be able to start healing. It’s a great book for fans of angsty stories like WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart and YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE by Rachel Lynn Solomon.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Most of the characters are white.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently. Some crude/sexual comments.

Romance/Sexual Content – Trigger Warning
Kissing between boy and girl. References to sex. Brief, disjointed description of a rape. It’s more a snapshot description of the scene and then the realization that it’s a rape.

Spiritual Content
Parker and her friends attend a private Catholic school. One scene takes place in the school’s chapel.

Violent Content – Trigger Warning
A couple very brief, violent moments. See romantic content. Also at one point a boy starts to attack a girl. References to two suicide attempts.

Drug Content
Several scenes show teens drinking alcohol. There’s some reference to taking pills as part of a suicide attempt.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog. I received a free copy of CRACKED UP TO BE in exchange for my honest review.