CW/TW: In this article, senior reviewer Debbie Wiley discusses mental health awareness, recommending young adult titles that have depression, suicide, and other mental health topics. If you are anyone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts or behaviors, please call 1-800-273-8255 or text RISE to 741741 to speak/text with a counselor.
As a teenager, I remember being fascinated by mental health issues, not knowing at that age that I was shaping my life’s work as a social worker. I devoured books like THE BELL JAR and GO ASK ALICE, but it was I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN that really touched a chord in me. Not only was the main character named Deborah, but she had a fantasy world not completely unlike many of the fantasy novels I read. Even better, she had a psychiatrist who listened and helped her journey back to sanity.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the importance of this has perhaps never been greater. Whether it’s the seemingly daily reports of bullying, suicides, school shootings, or other horrors, society is starting to recognize that mental health awareness is imperative. Slowly but surely the stigma against getting help is being erased. The young adult book market has been invaluable at publishing books geared towards easing the stigma and getting the word out about the resources available to help. Youth today are well ahead of adults in recognizing mental health issues and the young adult publishing business has plenty to offer them. Here are some of my personal favorites.
Similarly to I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN, Alyssa Sheinmel’s A DANGER TO HERSELF AND OTHERS is set in an institution. Hannah has been sent for an evaluation after her roommate suffers brain damage from falling out of a window. Hannah insists it was a tragic accident and is biding her time with the doctor she dubs Dr. Lightfoot while she waits for the whole mess to get straightened out so she can get back to school for her senior year and prepare for college. However, the arrival of a new roommate named Lucy changes everything and Hannah may have to face some things she has been avoiding. I really don’t want to share more than that but A DANGER TO HERSELF AND OTHERS is an exceptionally well-written book about mental health and offers some great insights on how perception affects everything.
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven (which has a movie adaptation scheduled for release soon) starts off on a narrow ledge six stories above the ground. Theodore Finch, aka the Freak and an outcast at school, meets popular girl Violet Markey. To the rest of the world, Violet becomes a hero for saving Theodore, but Violet knows the truth- that Theodore saved her. Violet can’t get over her older sister’s death, a crash that she survived with nary a scratch, while Theodore spends most of his waking time thinking about his own death. What follows is a heartbreakingly good tale that touches on a number of societal issues impacting teens, from suicide to bullying, to the lack of parental involvement.
There are many other phenomenal young adult books out there. THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp tackles the horrifying issue of a school shooting as we witness the heroics and the tragedy that ensues, minute by minute. EVERY LAST WORD by Tamara Ireland Stone features a young adult trying to cope with OCD, while Jackie Morse Kessler takes us into the world of a seventeen-year-old struggling with anorexia in HUNGER. RAGE by Jackie Morse Kessler talks about cutting while THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher shows the aftermath of a suicide completion.
And lastly, there are the nonfiction books for young adults featuring real people who are coping with mental illness and sharing their stories. LIFE INSIDE MY MIND: 31 AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PERSONAL STRUGGLES edited by Jessica Burkhart is a remarkable window into living with a mental illness. Whether it’s Robison Wells in “Twenty Pills” sharing how medications help him or Cindy L. Rodriguez’ “I’m a Survivor” talking about the stigma of depression in the Latin community, there are true stories of the hope amidst the struggles for anyone coping with a mental illness. (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY edited by Kelly Jensen is in the similar vein but digs into some less commonly discussed (although not necessarily less commonly diagnosed) disorders. Ashley Holstrom’s “Defining the Thing is the Trick” tackles trichotillomania, a compulsion to pull out one’s hair, while Stephanie Kuehn addresses misophonia in “Being Heard and Hating Sound”. One of the things I like about (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY is it not only features the real-life stories but then follows up with other resources.
May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month but make every day of every month about awareness. Reach out to someone if you need help. And pick up one of these great books if you want characters you can identify or just want to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to cope with a mental illness.
SOME OF THE BOOKS FEATURED IN THIS ARTICLE:
Only when she’s locked away does the truth begin to escape…
Four walls. One window. No way to escape. Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. She didn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at her summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctors and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. In the meantime, she is going to use her persuasive skills to get the staff on her side.
Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage. And she may be the only person who can get Hannah to confront the dangerous games and secrets that landed her in confinement in the first place.
Young Adult [Sourcebooks Fire, On Sale: February 5, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781492667247 / ]
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Gayle Forman, Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.
Young Adult [Knopf Books for Young Readers, On Sale: January 6, 2015, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780385755887 / ]
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
The auditorium doors won’t open.
Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
Young Adult Suspense [Sourcebooks Fire, On Sale: January 5, 2016, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781492622468 / eISBN: 9781492622482]
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, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.
Young Adult [Disney-Hyperion, On Sale: June 16, 2015, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781484705278 / ]
Riders of the Apocalypse #1
“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”
Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s
been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl
from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles
at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it
from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go
places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the
horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to
harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?