Books you read when you were young that absolutely shocked/disturbed you

My younger sister is doing a big project for her Honors English class. The book she chose to do it on is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I haven’t read this book for 6 years, but offering her suggestions, giving feedback, and proof-reading as brought back some surprising memories.

When I was in 6th grade, I read the book, having never heard of it before. At that point, I was too young to recgonize foreshadowing, and I really didn’t understand that sometimes the bad guys win. When the lead character (just blanked on his name) died, I was absolutely shocked. I completely didn’t see that coming. I was horrified! I still think about it to this day, and I can apply logic to it. (It’s pretty obvious now). But I will never forget the total disappointment and revulsion I felt when he was wheeled into his room after his lobotomy. I have refused to read the book since then, and last week my sister was watching the movie, I couldn’t even watch with them.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to read it again, or at least watch it, but I don’t think that’ll happen for awhile.
So, which book were you totally blindsided by when you were younger, before you understood foreshadowing/symbolism/unhappy endings? Does it still affect you on any level?

I read Sister Carrie when I was in my teens and hated it. It was the first Realist novel that I’d ever read and I kept expecting some kind of decisive, logical ending, but everybody just kept going from either innocent to cynical to being a total user (Carrie) or from intelligent to stupid to insane (all the men, apparently). And then it just ends. Like some sort of surrealist vignette…everybody’s miserable: the end. Gawd…I still hate the thing…


Orwell’s 1984 gave me the bone-deep creeps when I read it as a young teenager in the early 1970s.

I read Sophie’s Choice by William Styron when I was 14. I wasn’t familiar with the Meryl Streep movie, and only later did I realize that the flashback to the Nazi camp (I won’t spoil it; if you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about) is a famous literary/film moment.

It was a hard book to read, but I couldn’t put it down. I read it in like four days. By the time I got to the ending, I thought I was numb, but, well, wow. Reading that scene was like having my heart torn out. It was the most horrific thing I ever read in my life. Afterward, I cried for hours and then I couldn’t pick up another book (those days I was reading five books a week) for over a month. I didn’t want to read anything. I was in book shock.

I picked up the book a few weeks ago and tried reading it, but I couldn’t. Instead, I just skipped to that end scene and tried to read that, but I couldn’t do that either. The words on the page were so intimately connected to this huge pain I remember feeling, but they didn’t have the same effect 6 years later. I can’t really explain why I didn’t want to read it again; just that I wanted to preserve how I felt when I read it the first time, because it affected me so hugely.

Oh, thanks. You just reminded me of my most traumatic literary moment in my youth. When I was 13 I read Zorba the Greek and was completely unprepared for the scene where a guy whips out a pocketknife and beheads the widow all of a sudden. I was so sickened and horrified by this that I never read any more Kazantzakis. I now understand that this novel had depths of meaning I couldn’t possibly have grasped at that age, and I won’t really know what was in it unless I go back and read it as an adult. (Wasn’t Zorba promoted as a life-affirming, joyous tale?) But there are a lot of other books higher on my list if I ever get the chance to read them.

This is not a book, but it is certainly my first disturbing reading disturbance – I read Hans Cristian Andersen’s “The Litte Mermaid” when I was about 5. It was most certainly the first tragic ending I had ever encountered. I remember crying.

I did recover pretty quickly, though. It caused me to brood on the story for a week or so, and as a result I learned a lot about what makes fairy tales what they are, and why a person might favor the unhappy, ‘life is not fair’ ending. It became a favorite for me, although I didn’t read it again until the evil Disney movie came out.

This has less literary cachet than most of the things posted, but here goes…
I read Michael Chrichton’s Andromeda Strain when I was in fourth or fifth grade, and it gave me the willies for weeks. I couldn’t go to sleep without imagining some evil mutant outer space virus coming and killing us all without warning. Bio-based things are still the way to make me freak out about a book (like The Hot Zone), because now I know how possible it all is, but when I went back and read Andromeda last year, it seemed kind of silly.

pepperlandgirl - the character’s name is RP MacMurphy. I’m dead sure his initials are RP, but I’m only marginally sure that the R stands for Randall.

Along the lines of disturbing, one of the first real novels I remember reading was Stephen King’s The Shining. I was 11 or 12 I think. Before reading that book, I had never had my emotions stirred by written words. It amazed me that a book of all things could scare the hell out of me like that.

More along the lines of the OP, I was completely blindsided when, at the age of 13, I read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Tom Robinson wasn’t supposed to die! He was innocent, why wasn’t he allowed to be free? However, unlike pepperlandgirl aversion to the story in question, this twist from the norm only got me more interested in the story and I’ve read it many times since.

As often happens I’m drawing a blank as far as my own experiences go, so I’m going to borrow one from my brother.

When I was in the 10th grade, and he was 10 years old, I had to read “Of Mice and Men” for my English class. He got hold of it when I brought it home, and read it straight through in about a day. He was clearly very much affected by Lenny’s death-- it’s one of those things that reminds me of how proud I am of him, that he read this classic at 10 when I hadn’t touched it 'til I was 15, and that it touched him so.

When I was about 10 or 11 my mother decided that I should spend the summer reading some “classics”, so she put together a list. I had just finished a book and wanted something light, I wasn’t in the best of moods and didn’t feel like thinking hard or being depressed so I asked my mom for a suggestion.

She told me I should read Animal Farm. “It’s cute. The animals talk.” :rolleyes: (In her defense it had been years since she read the book, and she never was the best of students.)

I remember throwing the book across the room in tears when I finished it. I was depressed the rest of the afternoon and pissed at my mother for weeks. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to reread this book.

In my early teens (or likely before) I read Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon which takes place in (pre-Disnney) central Florida, from just before a nuclear war through the aftermath. An assortment of residents of small town near Orlando survive - too far from the Air Force bases in Tampa and Cape Canaveral, altho’ they saw glows on the horizon. One of them is the town banker who is concerned, of course, about money. He wants to call the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta (don’t remember if he started by trying to reach DC), the Operator (no Direct Dial Long Distance way back then) tells him no calls are going out of state. So he remembers there is a branch of the Fed. Reserve in Jacksonville, so he asks the Operator to try it, the Operator says, “I’m sorry sir, Jacksonville doesn’t seem to be there any more.”
I was sitting in Jacksonville (still am) reading those words, not all that long after the Cuban Missle Crisis. Big Time Creepy. I just got a “creepy” up my back typing this.

When I was a kid, I read some books that were definitely not kid books:

On the Beach by Neville Shute

Fail-Safe - don’t remember the author

1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell

While I’d like my own boy to raed these for himself (along with a ton of other classics), I’d rather it be when he’s a little older and we can talk them over.

I have to give another nod to 1984. I don’t remember my age but I was in high school so probably 14 or 15. The final line sent chills through me. I also still have a greater than normal fear of rats from reading that book.

Gaah! You sure did have a thirst for nuclear destruction!

I read “Fail-Safe” in high school. Quite a shocking ending.

Ok, remembered one of my own. When I was a pre-teen, my mom used to pick up bags and bags of used paperbacks at thrift shops. She was and is an avid reader. She stored her finds in our laundry room (only place there was enough space) and I’d frequently raid them.

When I was about 11, I got hold of a copy of “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” via the laundry room stash. I knew just enough about sex to have some idea of what was going on. I don’t think I read the entire book, but the last line has stuck with me for 18 years. I was extremely disturbed by it and had long discussions with an older (13, I think) friend of mine about it. Yet it never crossed my mind to ask my mom about it.

“Animal Farm” has been mentioned several times in this thread and I think that’s interesting-- I also read it when I was 11. For some reason there were a number of copies of it sitting in my 6th grade class room. We also had some freaky collections of science fiction stories in our library and reading rooms, but I’m just remembering I went on about those in another thread a while back…

I read Carrie and Cujo when I was about 11 years old. They didn’t really scare me, but I could certainly recognize the popular people in Carrie. The mother freaked me out, though.

I think I overloaded all of my shock circuits so quickly that it didn’t really register.

I remember reading Shield of Three Lions when I was six. There was a little introductory material, a little scene-setting, then everyone around the protagonist (a young girl) was slaughtered, her home was sacked, and she witnessed a brutal rape and murder. That stands out in my memory in part because I read it while sitting in my first grade reading class, while kids around me were still struggling with the little “cat/dog/boy/girl” story we were assigned. My teacher–foolish creature that she was–didn’t believe that I could actually read the book, and made me read aloud from it. By chance, she pointed out that passage to read, and I took a certain grim satisfaction in watching her go pale and frantically shush me. Then she asked if I understood it, so I explained it to her in considerable clinical detail until she shushed me again.

The first time I read that passage was an eye-opener. I was sure the girl had gotten away clean then, suddenly, horrible nastiness happened right in front of her. In later years I was sometimes depressed and often disgusted by books (Lord of the Flies, anyone?–what a piece of tripe), but I was never shocked again.

In seventh grade, I had one of those English textbooks with many short stories and novellas. One of them was a story by (I think) Ray Bradbury. I can’t remember the title, but it took place on Venus. On Venus, it rains constantly, but every eleven years, it stops for one hour. It’s that day, and all the kids are eagerly anticipating seeing the sunshine for the first time. But in the morning, the class bullies lock up a more unfortunate girl in a closet. The rain stops, and everyone is delighted, they run outside for an hour. The rain starts again, they come back in, and realize that the girl is still locked up. She’s missed the entire thing.

I can’t remember the title, but the fact that I can recall all those details proves how much that story shocked me (I do not have the greatest memory for such things). It was such a short, simple story, but the idea of missing the only hour of sunshine for eleven years horrified me.

I read Naked Lunch around 16. Almost got physically ill. Read it 5 years later, and found all the black humor I’d missed the 1st time.

I read The Catcher in the Rye my junior year in high school. I got physically ill at one point, because I so identified with the main character. It was the scene where Holden was remembering playing checkers with a (female) friend of his, and it comes out that she was being molested by her stepfather. It turned my stomach, in part because I knew a couple of girls who were going through the same thing.

In 7th grade we read Flowers for Algernon, and I was brought to tears.

I’m also reading a disturbing book right now. She Said YES: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall. It’s teaching me how wildly out of touch I am with today’s teens; and I was a teen just a 15 years ago :eek:. Ugh. And the youth minister asked me to help out with the youth group at our church. Double ugh.