Tuesday Top Ten


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers create their own lists based on the chosen topics and post links to our lists. It’s a way of all sharing our thoughts and our love of books.  And who doesn’t love lists??

So this week the challenge is to create a list of the books that you have read that deal with tough subjects.  Interestingly, many of the books on my list ended up being young adult books, while there is plenty that is light and fluffy in the YA genre, teens also deal with a lot of tough issues and there are many books that are beautifully written yet address tremendously difficult subjects.

Young Adult Books:

  1. America by E.R. Frank – One of the most difficult books I have ever read, a boy named America ends up lost within the social service system for over 11 years, ending up in a treatment facility after trying to commit suicide.  The story of his life, the years when he fell between the cracks, is heart-wrenching, raw, and brands your heart.
  2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – No one is speaking to Melinda – she called the cops on an end-of-summer party – while she silently tries to come to terms with the fact that she was raped at the very same party.  Bullying, sexual violence, and depression all come together to remind one how awful the teenage years can be for some.
  3. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Laurie Halse Anderson writes some really tough teen literature, although she does so beautifully.  Wintergirls is another example and one that I found even more difficult to read than Speak.  Two best friends with terrifying eating disorders, one who dies, and the other who lives while continuing to starve herself and engage in self-mutilation while dealing with her guilt over her friend’s death.  Stark and real, very tough stuff.
  4. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Hannah has committed suicide and sends cassette tapes to thirteen of her friends telling them why – and what part they played in her decision to end her life.  Clay Jensen receives one of these tapes and listens to it as he spends the night traveling through Hannah’s life.  A difficult story about guilt and the impact that seemingly small interactions can have on others.
  5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – This story of the Holocaust as told through the life of a young girl in Germany is heart-wrenching.  The characters are so well-developed and so beloved that I felt a greater sense of loss in this book than in any other I have read.
  6. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys Another harrowing story set during World War II, but this time following a 15-year old Lithuanian, Lina, and her family as they are forcibly removed from their country by the Soviets and sent to Siberian work camps.

Adult Books:

  1. Unbroken by Laura HillebrandAs long as I’m talking about stories set during WWII…  This true story of Louis Zamperini had many hopeful moments, displaying the power of human resiliency, but the central parts of the story, during the war and when he was held captive, were horrifying.
  2. With or Without You by Domenica Ruta – Maybe it’s because I’m a mom and because I believe that being a mom is the most important role I will ever play in my life, but books about horrific parents and the impact on their children are always hard for me to read.  This memoir definitely fell into that category for me.
  3. The Dinner by Herman Koch – The disturbing actions of the children in this story, and their parents’ complete lack of moral fiber left me disgusted and disturbed.
  4. Defending Jacob by William Landay – I loved this book, but as a parent I found it very difficult to read.  As a parent, how blind can we be to our children’s faults?  And how far will we go to deny the truth and protect the one that we love more than ourselves?  Tough questions with no simple answers.

The Dinner

dinnerPaul and his wife Claire are off to have dinner at a fine and exclusive restaurant with Paul’s brother, Serge (a popular candidate to be the next Prime Minister of Denmark) and his wife Babette.  It seems that their teenage boys have been up to no good (but have yet to be identified by the authorities) and this is to be the topic of conversation.  Although there is a lot of tension, nastiness, flashbacks, and musings, the issue at hand does not get addressed until the dinner is nearly over.  The resulting decisions of the parents, their actions and reactions, and the resulting implications left me appalled.

I have heard this book compared to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  They are both well-written and both left me disturbed by a set of annoying, psychotic, and generally unlikable and unsympathetic characters making horrific personal decisions.  I have also heard this book compared to Defending Jacob by William Landay as books that address the lengths a parent will go to in defending their child.  I’m not sure I completely agree.  Defending Jacob deals with a parent’s love driving them to all-consuming belief in their child’s innocence in spite of evidence to the contrary.  In contrast, The Dinner shows parents who have clear proof of their child’s guilt and react with an almost evil, cold-hearted, and amoral response to the situation with seemingly no concern for the consequences of their child’s actions or their own.

So, did I like it?  Hmmm….  I’m not sure.  It was well-written and the story certainly stuck with me.  It’s very dark and biting, and although I often like dark stories and do not require happy endings, I also prefer stories where there are at least some sympathetic or likable characters…  Would I recommend it?  Sure, as long as you know what you’re getting into and don’t mind reading a disturbingly dark story with characters that seem to lack any type of moral compass.

Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 304
Publication: Hogarth, February 2013