Issues of mental health are tricky enough to understand in life; to capture them well in literature can be nearly impossible. It’s far too easy to get caught up in stereotypes, misinformation, and stigmatization. But when a book does get it right, it can be a literal lifesaver.
Literature with teen protagonists suffering from mental illness has a pretty fine history—books like The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger have been capturing the pain and complexity of adolescent mental illness for decades. But as psychological and medical advancements and new editions of the DSMhelp us further understand, categorize, and treat different issues, so too has YA evolved to reflect that. Of course, there are infinite presentations of mental illness, and no single title can adequately encapsulate the variety of anyone’s experience. But here are eight titles that contain the kind of thoughtful, realistic, empathetic depiction that just might help you or someone you know.
1.OCD Love Story, by Corey Ann Haydu
Don’t be fooled by the adorable cover; this book may have its sweet moments and a love story you’ll root for, but it’s one of the most difficult reads I’ve encountered in YA. It’s also one of the most rewarding. And though it isn’t something you’ll read in one sitting, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be returning to it over and over for months, in your brain if not in practice. Bea and Beck have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and not in the overused joking way where you just like things really clean. Haydu’s writing is a real, raw exploration of what it means to suffer from an anxiety disorder and how it affects both your relationships in the long term and your everyday existence.
2.Wild Awake, by Hilary T. Smith
Kiri is a music prodigy with a summer of freedom ahead of her, a huge competition to prepare for, and a potential romance with her best friend to pursue…until she gets a phone call about her dead sister that sets her on a new, uncontrollable path. Smith has masterfully crafted Kiri’s downward spiral and intensely growing obsession, and the journey back into self-awareness is a slow and painful and beautiful one to watch. Definitely a worthwhile read that’ll stick with you long after the final page.Buy it from Amazon
3.Dr. Bird’s Advice For Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos
There’s something deceptively light and quirky about James, the anxious, depressed, Walt Whitman-loving narrator of Roskos’ Morris Award-nomated debut, and it hits extra hard when you realize what a gift this book can be for someone who needs it. Rife with humor, pain, and introspection, this book left me wanting to hug everyone I knew, and even some people I didn’t. Just in case.Buy it from Amazon