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Shelf Care at The Blue Bench: December Reading List

Welcome to the Shelf Care reading list by The Blue Bench! Every month, we will curate a reading list of books showcasing powerful voices and talented storytelling. These books delve into topics related to sexual assault, sexual identity, trauma, healing, hope, community, and resilience.

The books highlighted in this month’s list feature themes of healing from trauma. This includes research-based books as well as memoirs and novels about different types of healing journeys. [TW/CW: These books may contain topics related to sexual assault, domestic violence, drug use, eating disorders, death, and others that some may find triggering]


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

     This book is by a pioneering researcher and expert on trauma and healing. It dives into the connections between painful trauma and the effects it has on the mind, emotions, and biology. Traumatic stress can rearrange the brains wiring, and in turn affects the areas of the brain that are connected to pleasure, control, engagement, and trust. These connections can be reactivated through treatments like mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies.

     Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, researcher, and educator. He has served as a past president for the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and former co-director of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. He has published over 150 peer reviewed scientific articles.


What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma

by Stephanie Foo

     This memoir describes the healing process after a diagnosis with complex PTSD- a condition that occurs when trauma happens continuously over the course of years. Stephanie Foo has her dream job and a loving boyfriend but deals with severe panic attacks and bouts of uncontrollable sobbing. After receiving her complex PTSD diagnosis, Foo sets off on a journey to understand her trauma—years of physical and verbal abuse and neglect from her parents growing up—and begins her healing process. This deeply personal account reckons with the hold that your past can have on your present.

     Stephanie Foo has worked as a radio producer for shows like This American Life and Snap Judgement. She has also freelanced for podcasts like The Cut, Nancy, Reply All, and 99% Invisible. She has published work in The New York Times and Vox.


The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

     This classic novel is a renowned masterpiece, but is always a good book about a coming-to-power journey. Set in the deep south, the story follows Celie—a young black girl born into extreme poverty and segregation. Repeatedly sexually assaulted by the man she calls ‘father,’ she eventually has children who are taken from her. She is trapped in an abusive marriage and separated from her beloved sister Nettie. When she meets the glamorous singer Shug Avery, Celie begins to discover her own power and joy, and begins to free herself from her past and reunite with her loved ones.

     Alice Walker is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist. She became the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Color Purple.


Good Enough

by Jen Petro-Roy

     This is a middle-grade book about a young teen struggling with an eating disorder and life inside a treatment facility. This book explores what it is like for teens in therapy, navigating different triggers, problematic friends, and how the road to recovery is often a difficult one—including how to keep the healing process in motion after returning to life outside the facility. Written by an eating disorder survivor, this is a realistic look at eating disorder treatment and survival.

     Jen Petro-Roy has worked as a librarian in public libraries and has a master’s in library sciences from Simmons University. She is an eating disorder recovery advocate.


The Unsinkable Greta James

by Jennifer E. Smith

     This novel confronts healing from grief and the loss of a family member. Following Greta, an indie musician on the rise to stardom, has a meltdown on stage following the sudden death of her mother. Deciding to run from the now viral incident, Greta goes on an Alaskan cruise with her father. The trip becomes one of both healing old wounds in her relationship with her father and grieving the loss of her mother.

     Jennifer E. Smith is the author of nine books for young adults, including several that have been adapted for film. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She currently lives in Los Angeles.


I Want to Go Home: Reclaiming Power After Sexual Assault

by Renee Marie Simpson 

    This is a true story based on the journal entries of a woman who agrees to join a sailing expedition from Gibraltar to Thailand, with no experience. When things begin to go wrong and the trip becomes a nightmare of different issues like mechanical failures, run-ins with pirates, and sea storms—these events trigger a trauma of sexual assault. As she begins to adapt to life on the sea, she works to reclaim the power stolen from her. Sharing the journey from victim to survivor through adventure and travel, this book reflects on what home really means, and how to cultivate hope after trauma.

     Renee Marie Simpson is a counsellor, youth and community development leader, and advocate.

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