7 Novels About Childhood Trauma

by Joli
7 Novels About Childhood Trauma

The following is a guest post by Rick Berry. Meet him at the bottom!

There is no doubt that trauma is fertile ground for fiction.

Many novels — the most interesting ones, if you ask me — tend to embrace the darker side of human existence. Depicting loss, pain or fear can make for some very powerful stories.

There are many novels depicting horrific events. A detective hunting a sadistic killer, for instance. But these do not necessarily explore the psychological impact on the victim in great depth. This is what the trauma novel seeks to do.

It is important to remember that novels about childhood trauma don’t necessarily focus primarily on the traumatic experience itself. Many use the initial experience as a starting point or a backdrop for an ensuing story about how a victim deals with with what they have been through, later in life.

In that sense, these novels can be as much about the struggle to recover as they are about trauma itself. Here are a few examples of the various ways in which these stories have been told.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Thirteen-year-old Theodore Decker is visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother, when she is killed in a terrorist bombing. Theo survives, and in the confusing aftermath of the explosion, he steals the seventeenth-century masterpiece, The Goldfinch, which becomes the physical manifestation on Theo’s trauma. The novel follows Theo as he moves through a chaotic childhood, first with a wealthy New York family and later with his absentee father in Las Vegas. Longing for his mother, Theo secretly keeps the painting as a reminder of her, leading him ultimately into the criminal underbelly of the art world.

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The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St Aubyn

A devastating series of five novels, based on the real-life experiences of the author. In the first, Never Mind, five-year-old Patrick Melrose is on vacation with his family in France, when he is sexually abused by his father. The abuse goes on for several years, but the psychological impact on Patrick endures for decades. Subsequent novels follow Patrick in adult life, including a wild weekend in New York in the grip of drug addiction, the death of his father, mixing with the aristocracy, a failing marriage, a reckoning with his mother and, eventually, a chance to find peace and leave the past behind.

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The trauma experienced by protagonist Rosemary as a child is the disappearance of her sister Fern from the family home. The novel remains difficult to discuss without giving away the crucial information that explains Fern’s disappearance. Needless to say, she is not your average child. But the more important point is that living with Fern as a sister was normal to Rosemary, and her absence becomes definitive of Rosemary’s subsequent life. Rosemary and her older brother Lowell never forget Fern, and try to find her years later. It is a very funny novel, which offers hope that understanding can follow heartbreak.

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Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

A tale of childhood bullying and its lasting effects. Growing up in Toronto, Elaine is bullied by her closest friends, led by the manipulative and cruel Cordelia. After one incident when the group abandons Elaine in a ravine. Elaine breaks free from her victimization and leaves the group behind. But the traumatic memories won’t leave her, and continue to affect how she relates to other people as she enters adulthood, despite her success as an artist. Elaine sees Cordelia, whose is struggling with life and has been admitted to a mental health facility. But whatever has become of Cordelia as an adult, Elaine still needs face the trauma of her treatment as a child before she can move on.

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner

Set against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s tumultuous recent history, including the rise of the Taliban, The Kite Runner shows us how one traumatic incident can lead to a lifetime of guilt and shame. Growing up in Kabul, Amir witnesses has best friend Hassan being sexually assaulted by an older boy, Assef. Amir and his father flee the country after the Soviet invasion and settle in the United States, but Amir can never forget Hassan or what happened to him. As an adult, after Hassan’s death, Amir returns to Afghanistan to rescue Hassan’s son from the clutches of a brutal Taliban leader, searching for the redemption he needs for himself.

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Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura

The trauma experienced by the teenage characters of Tsujimura’s tender magic realist novel is of an everyday quality – school bullying and family dysfunction – but is no less powerful for it. Kokoro has been staying at home, afraid to attend school, when a portal opens up through her bedroom to a castle, where she finds six others in similar circumstances to her own, and a mysterious girl in a wolf mask, who tasks them with finding a key hidden in the castle to have a wish granted. That task becomes secondary to the journeys of self-discovery that each child goes on, and the bonds that slowly form between the group. A moving novel about friendship, belonging and overcoming fear.

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Kill All The Dogs by Rick Berry

Nathan Hyde is changed forever by the events of one day, when he witnesses a fatal attack on his best friend’s little sisters by the family’s pet dogs. Denied the support he needs to deal with the trauma, Nathan is transformed from a happy-go-lucky young boy into lonely, brooding young man, harboring a secret resentment against dogs and their owners. Working in the foothills of the political system, Nathan is perhaps destined to stay that way forever. Then the world intervenes to give Nathan the opportunity to enact revenge, but he’ll have to cross lines he never intended to cross. Nathan might be able to confront his trauma, but at great personal cost.

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Meet the Author

Rick Berry is a British author, with his debut novel Kill All The Dogs published by Spellbound Books in January 2024. His short fiction has been published by Cafe Irreal, The Letters Page, Bandit Fiction, Dream Catcher and Planet Raconteur. When not writing, he can be found working at his day job in London politics, or playing football with his son, Kurt. Find more of his writing at rickberry.co.uk.

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