Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I would share my top choices of YA books that have characters or storylines surrounding mental health. I was inspired by recent posts from StellaMaria Books, go check her out!
*These are not reviews – I just want to highlight the ways these books talked about mental illnesses, so I won’t really talk about about other storylines/characters, nor will I critique/analyze the books – just an FYI before you start reading!
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Goodreads synopsis: If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle… (continued)
This book does a great job of accurately portraying the influence that OCD has on Sam’s life. It shows that OCD isn’t just a synonym for being organized; it’s an illness that can take over your life. That being said, I appreciate how there was a balance between acknowledging Sam’s illness, while not letting it define her. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to know what truly goes through the minds of those with OCD, and how the intrusive thoughts can seriously impact all aspects of your life. It’s clear that the author did her research. Overall, this book was an authentic representation of having OCD and in general, of struggles that too many high schoolers have to face (such as bullying and friendship troubles). I also like the fact that there is a lot of poetry in it, and that the ending completely took me by surprise!
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Goodreads synopsis: Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life – which means getting into the right high school to get into the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself… (continued)
Craig’s voice is blunt, raw, and honest. I really respect his character and how he chooses to get help; it’s not an easy thing to do when you’re in that kind of a situation. Ned Vizzini slips in pieces of humor throughout, without romanticizing mental illness. Craig is a relatable character, but not in a forced way – I felt like sometimes he was able to express things that I would never be able to put into words. Vizzini doesn’t hold back, which makes IKOAFS a very real read. It really opens your mind to the idea that everyone has their own internal struggles, whether or not they admit it.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Goodreads synopsis: The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
Charlie is one of my favorite book characters of all time. His words are simple, yet they convey so much emotion. There are some difficult topics in this book, but I think they are important for helping the reader understand what Charlie is really feeling, and how these things really affect the characters. This is a book that most people either love or hate; I personally think this is an important story that is worth the read. It’s also one of the few books with a movie adaption that is very close to the book – if you’re not into reading, I’d definitely suggest watching the movie.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Goodreads synopsis: Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone… (continued)
Cath’s social anxiety is a big part of her life and it holds her back sometimes. Although mental illness is not a huge part of the plot, like it is with the other books, it is still pretty relevant. This is a lighter read, but there is still a twinge of sadness and loneliness in some parts. I love this book because I feel like I can really relate to Cath.
Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
Goodreads synopsis: Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you… (continued)
This is definitely the most intense read of all the books. Kathleen Glasgow doesn’t sugarcoat Charlie’s experience and makes it clear how brutal and harsh her life is; it seems like the whole world is against Charlie. This book is heart-achingly real, and as difficult as it is to read Charlie’s story, it’s equally as difficult to stop reading. It does get a bit uncomfortable at times, but the topics discussed in this book are crucial and I’m glad the author was able to address them. If you are able to handle the heavy topics, this is a must read!!
I chose these books because I felt they depict mental illness in a very realistic way, and I feel that they give good insight into the minds of those who have mental illnesses. A lot of the topics in these books may be uncomfortable to read or talk about (such as depression, suicide, etc.), but THEY NEED TO BE TALKED ABOUT!
- 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience some type of mental illness in a given year
- 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. experience a serious mental illness in a given year that significantly interferes with and impacts their life
- 1 in 5 children (ages 13-18) have/will have a serious mental illness
- 37% of students with a mental health condition, ages 14+ drop out of school
- 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14; 75% by age 24
- Mood disorders are the 3rd most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for ages 18-44
- Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year
When talking about well-being, it is important to address mental health along with physical health! Remember, just because you don’t see anything, doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there. If we can be more open about mental health, more people will be able to get the proper help they need. #BreakTheStigma
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health)
Remember: you are never alone!! YOU GOT THIS!
Today’s quote: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” -Louisa May Alcott