Cori McCarthy's Color of Rain is not a book I'd hand to someone who is concerned that YA fiction has become too dark. It deals, after all, with human trafficking, with sex work, with emotional and physical abuse, with fear and depression and loss. Over the course of her journey, the heroine, Rain, not only walks through Hell, but for a time, is a resident there: for a time, she abandons all hope, and for a time, she shuts down, stops thinking, feeling, caring.
But she fights, and she survives. And ultimately, she makes her way through and out of the dark... not unscathed, but whole.
It's a tense, smart, compelling, disturbing, original read. And I find it ever-so fitting that Cori McCarthy decided on Traumatizing (In a Good Way) Reads for her theme. So, without further ado, here are seven traumatizing books that inspired her to write Color of Rain:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
A story about a girl who does anything and everything to keep herself afloat through a dreary, unfortunate series of fate face-slaps. Jane was always in the back of my mind when I wrote Rain; I wanted Rain to have that same brave face no matter what. Unshakable to the very end!
Feed, by M.T. Anderson
This YA sci-fi really stands out. And if you think Rain is chilling and bleak, try this book on for size. It offers lessons about defending individuality in such arrestingly artistic ways. Plus, who doesn’t love a book that starts with, “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan
This book goes too far. It uses stunning poetry to weave a wretched, disturbing story into the reader’s mind. That story has stayed with me for years, like it or not, and while I was writing Rain, I was aware that I needed to go too far as well. I needed the reader to understand that what Rain was doing was not okay, not for her, not for anyone. And also to demonstrate that, like the teenage sex trade, this sort of thing happens.
Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt
This is another story about a girl who will do anything and make the hardest decisions. Keturah is headstrong and steady. She’s wise beyond her young age and does not shift from sacrifice. I hope that Rain’s terrible choices feel as necessary and (somewhat) noble as Keturah’s do.
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
Ah, you might be surprised here, but this book gave me shivers. I’m a little shocked by some of the most deliciously romantic things about Edward. To me, he always felt on the edge of being overly obsessive and possessive. Dangerous—not because he is a vampire—but because he yearns to own Bella. I didn’t realize that I had drawn on my reaction to Twilight when I wrote Rain until someone referred to Johnny as the anti-Edward Cullen. I’m not going to lie, that one made me giggle quite a bit.
Lips Touch: Three Times, by Laini Taylor
This collection of three short stories is kind of mesmerizing and so hot and heavy—in weird ways, I should point out. I’m not sure that I knew how sexy of a tone I could get away with while writing YA until I read this book. Like Tender Morsels, it feels daring and strange and dark in ways that you can’t always put your finger on.
Dancing on the Edge, by Han Nolan
This book made me cry silent tears that streamed until I gave up on tissues and just let myself puddle. It’s a quieter coming of age story than all these other books, but it has a slamming, important heartbeat. Every time I read it, the main character, Miracle, proves how much a person can go through while retaining their humanity, sanity and willingness to love.