Despite the brevity of this list, books on tough subjects are very dear to my heart. They are frequently the targets of book banning because they make people uncomfortable, but I think that is a real tragedy. These are the kinds of books that teach us about some of life's harsher realities, but more importantly, I think they help teach us empathy. Perhaps, that is a bit of a lofty goal, but fiction does allow us to see things from another person's perspective and if we take that to heart, I think much more good than bad will come of it.
1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky -- Homophobia, bullying, rape, abuse in varying forms, abortion -- this book covers a LOT of ground. (That last one was completely left out of the movie version, by the way. It seems Hollywood wasn't willing to go there on that particular hot-button topic.)
2. Before I Die, by Jenny Downham -- This is the story of a teenage girl dying of cancer and it is heart-breakingly beautiful. I've recommended it a million times before and I'll recommend it a million times more. It is a book that will really make you think and feel (and cry).
3. You Against Me, by Jenny Downham -- Told from the perspectives of a rape victim's brother and the rapist's sister, this is a very thought-provoking book. Jenny Downham has a gift for telling stories that are not always easy and this is another perfect example. In light of various real news stories lately, I think this is very a powerful book that more people should read.