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One Red Dot by David A. Carter



Babes in the Wood
In many ways, our childhood defines the rest of our life. Books about childhoods shattered by pain and suffering – both fiction and non–fiction – are commonplace today but they have a long history dating back to the English tale of the Babes in the Wood in the 16th century. Some like Oliver Twist and Anne Frank's Diary illustrate a period of history, while others, such as Lord of the Flies and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, have become deeply symbolic.

Many of the real-life stories are intensely painful to read because war, violence, poverty or abuse in the home turns childhood into a battle for survival. And then novels – such as The Wasp Factory, Flowers in the Attic and The Cement Garden – have been criticized almost as much as they have been praised because they challenge taboos about how youngsters should behave.

Enjoy, or perhaps it should be endure, our selection of 20 books (in chronological order) about shattered childhoods.



20 Books of Shattered Childhood

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens-1839
1. Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
(1839)


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Oliver Twist is packed with grim realism and satire on Victorian poverty from the injustice of the workhouse to children sweeping chimneys and thieving on the streets. Slums abound. The ‘Please, sir, I want some more’ line is literature’s most famous culinary request. Dickens’ second novel and originally published in serial form, the book is far from perfect with its Jewish and upper class stereotypes but still occupies an important spot in literary history.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
2. The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank
(1947)

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One of the most influential and remarkable books published in the 20th century, Anne Frank′s diary describes her two–year stint hidden away in a secret alcove inside an Amsterdam office building during the Nazi occupation. Anne, who started writing on her 13th birthday, died in the Belsen concentration camp shortly before the end of the war. A totally unique book that illustrates the suffering of the Jews during World War II.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
3. Lord of the Flies William Golding
(1954)


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Can there really be anyone who hasn’t read this novel? A group of schoolboys are marooned by a plane crash on a desert island and their attempts to remain civilized (and nice toward the fat kid) fail very badly. School teachers love this novel because it poses so many questions about morality, power and what holds together society. Consider checking out The Coral Island by RM Ballantyne from 1857, Lord of the Flies was written as a reposte to this novel.
A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
4. A Kestrel for a Knave
Barry Hines
(1968)

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A fixture on most school curriculums in the UK, this novel is virtually unknown in North America. It has a desperately sad ending. Set in Barnsley, in the heart of working class Yorkshire, schoolboy Billy Casper finds and attempts to train a kestrel, which he names Kes. A Kestrel for a Knave shows a downtrodden class where retribution, at all levels, is swift and brutal. The book is a 24–hour insight into ignorance versus hope.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou
(1969)

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Angelou’s 1969 autobiography is a landmark book about how racism and hatred can be overcome. The book charts Angelou’s life from three, when she goes to live with her grandmother in Arkansas, to when she become a mother at 17. The narrative is dominated by the author’s rape at the age of eight. It won the National Book Award in 1970 and is frequently used in schools because it encapsulates racial suffering in the States.
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
6. Go Ask Alice
Anonymous
(1971)


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A very controversial book on its publication, Go Ask Alice is supposed to be a diary of a troubled teenage girl who died from a drugs overdose. As it includes drug addiction, kids living on the streets, sex with strangers, swearing and a rape, the book has been banned many times in America. The diary’s writer is the middle class daughter of a university professor, whose suburban life goes to pieces when her parents move to a new town.
The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan
7. The Cement Garden
Ian McEwan
(1978)

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There is a train of thought that McEwan’s edgy, dark early books are better than his later bestsellers – in fact, they used to call him ‘Ian Macabre’ when he was an up-and-coming writer. The father of four children dies and then their mother dies too. The children encase their mother’s body in cement in the basement to avoid being taken into care by social services. There’s an incestuous relationship to make things even more complicated.
Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews
8. Flowers in the Attic
VC Andrews
(1979)

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This disturbing novel was the first in Andrews’ Dollanganger Series – Petals on the Wind,If There Be Thorns,Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows came later. The four Dollanganger children lose their father in a car crash and end up living in their grand-parents house. However, the children are imprisoned in the attic by their mother and grandmother. The novel was an instant bestseller in 1979 and courted controversy due to an incest theme.
Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
9. Ham on Rye
Charles Bukowski
(1982)


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A semi-
autobiographical novel written in the first person, Ham on Rye describes the painful childhood and teenage years of Henry Chinaski in ultra-tough Los Angeles during the Great Depression. The boy is described as a loner, frequently beaten by his violent father and alienated from other school children. Henry is eventually thrown out of the house by his father who discovers his writing.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
10. The Wasp Factory
Iain Banks
1984

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A remarkable book by any stretch of the imagination and is essentially a gothic novel about the abuse of power. The Wasp Factory describes the childhood of Frank Cauldhame, who lives on an island with his father. Frank has several bizarre rituals including hanging dead animals from so–called sacrifice poles. As the story unfolds, his brother – interned in a mental hospital – is introduced. It’s a gruesome, violent book but very hard to put down.
A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer
11. A Child Called It
Dave Pelzer
1995


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If you have children in your life, you may not wish to read this bestselling memoir. Pelzer’s alcoholic mother tortured him as a young child, tormenting him, starving him, poisoning him, and stabbing him. It’s an awful tale of child abuse although some of its authenticity has been called into doubt. With the abuse coming from a female rather than traditional male, the book provides an insight into how extreme abuse can be.
Angelas Ashes by Frank McCourt
12. Angela's Ashes
Frank McCourt
(1996)


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This memoir won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 and turned McCourt into an overnight literary sensation. It tells of McCourt′s poverty-stricken childhood in Brooklyn and Ireland. His father, an alcoholic, rarely works and when he does drinks away his wages. Eventually, he disappears completely. The book is relentless in its descriptions of unending poverty – and it′s all happened not so long ago. McCourt′s follow-up memoirs were Tis and Teacher Man.
Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found by Jennifer Lauck
13. Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found
Jennifer Lauck
(2000)
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Lauck′s memoir describes a six-year period where both her parents die and her childhood falls to pieces. It begins in 1969 when the author is just five years old and her mother is already very ill. The book examines a series of relationships within the family and it′s told with very little self-pity. The subsequent death of her father puts Lauck and her brother into the hands of a callous stepmother and things go from bad to worse.
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
14. First They Killed My Father
Loung Ung
(2000)

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Covering the period from 1975 to 1979, this book is an insight into Cambodia’s bloody times under Pol Pot’s barbaric regime. It′s a raw, powerful book but the courage of Loung Ung is uplifting – she sees her family destroyed and her childhood torn apart but continues to fight for survival. The brutality goes on and on – beatings, starvation, attempted rape, mental cruelty and being forced to become a child soldier.
Bad Blood by Lorna Sage
15. Bad Blood
Lorna Sage
(2001)


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Winner of a Whitbread Prize for biography, this is another painful family-based memoir but offers more hope and humor than Angela’s Ashes. Sage describes her wretched childhood in a small Shropshire village with a downtrodden mother and two feuding grand-parents. Her drunken, womanizing grand-father, a priest no less, is an object lesson in provincial evil. The author died a few days after winning the Whitbread Prize.
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
16. Running with Scissors
Augusten Burroughs
(2002)


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A stunning memoir where 12-year-old Burroughs is sent away by his mother, after the break-up of his parent’s marriage, to live with psychiatrist Dr Finch in a household where rules are non-existent. Amid Lord of the Flies-type overtones, Running with Scissors describes Burroughs’ misadventures, including a two-year sexual relationship with a man in his thirties. A court case later disputed the accuracy of the memoir.
Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire
17. Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy
Carlos Eire
(2003)
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This memoir describes the author’s experiences as a nine-year-old when Fidel Castro takes control of Cuba. Eire sees relatives arrested, property confiscated, and rights lost. Two years later, he is sent to the US and his anger is reflected in his book. The author, now a history and religious studies professor at Yale, is no fan of Castro and calls him a "ruthless dictator." The book is a remarkable insight into a key period of modern history.
The Class Castle by Jeannette Walls
18. The Glass Castle
Jeannette Walls
(2005)



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This is definitely an uplifting book even though the author’s childhood was spent in poverty and confusion. This memoir features yet another set of totally dysfunctional parents and questions whether you really want to be brought up by ‘creative’ types. The memorable first sentence is "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster."
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
19. Mister Pip
Lloyd Jones
(2006)



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Thirteen-year-old Matilda sees her South Pacific island wrecked by the violence of a civil war in the 1990s. During the chaos, the island′s only white person begins teaching Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in the school and, of course, there is a massive disconnection between Victorian England and a small island near Papua New Guinea. The mother-daughter relationship is also vital in this moving novel that won the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
A Long Way Gone: Memoires of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
20. A Long Way Gone: Memoires of a Boy Soldier
Ishmail Beah
(2007)

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Even though its authenticity has been questioned, A Long Way Gone is a remarkable memoir about being a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war. Twelve-year-old Beah spends three years toting an AK-47 and wreaking carnage after his parents are killed by rebel forces. The descriptions of this brutal conflict are shocking enough without the fact Beah is a mere child. Thankfully, this is also a story of redemption.

Late night reader? Infuse your reading with caffeine.