In case you weren’t aware, May is Mental Health Awareness Month and, well, can we all just give a round of applause for that? Even the existence of such a month is important. Because, unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health.
For some of us, talking about mental health and mental illness is hard. But we owe it to ourselves, and to the millions of others just like us, to speak up. We are stronger together, and one of the most empowering things about speaking up is the knowledge that you are not alone, no matter how much to the contrary you might feel. Like the concept behind Inside Out, we need all the emotions to exist, not just the so-called happy and cheerful ones. Being “on” all the time can burn you out faster than anything.
Because sometimes you need a reminder that you’re not alone, we reached out to the members of our Facebook Group and asked for their favorite books that portray mental illness and discussions of mental health well. So, in no particular order, here are some stunning YA books that handle mental health.
YA Books to Read
FOR MENTAL HEALTH MONTH
1. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.
Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.
2. Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.
Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.
3. (Don’t) Call Me Crazy edited by Kelly Jensen
What does it mean to be crazy? Is using the word crazyoffensive?
What happens when such a label gets attached to your everyday experiences?
In order to understand mental health, we need to talk openly about it. Because there’s no single definition of crazy, there’s no single experience that embodies it, and the word itself means different things—wild? extreme? disturbed? passionate?—to different people. (Don’t) Call Me Crazy is a conversation starter and guide to better understanding how our mental health affects us every day.
4. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
5. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl. I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through. I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.
In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.
6. The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
Matt hasn’t eaten in days. His stomach stabs and twists inside, pleading for a meal, but Matt won’t give in. The hunger clears his mind, keeps him sharp—and he needs to be as sharp as possible if he’s going to find out just how Tariq and his band of high school bullies drove his sister, Maya, away.
Matt’s hardworking mom keeps the kitchen crammed with food, but Matt can resist the siren call of casseroles and cookies because he has discovered something: the less he eats the more he seems to have . . . powers. The ability to see things he shouldn’t be able to see. The knack of tuning in to thoughts right out of people’s heads. Maybe even the authority to bend time and space.
So what is lunch, really, compared to the secrets of the universe?
Matt decides to infiltrate Tariq’s life, then use his powers to uncover what happened to Maya. All he needs to do is keep the hunger and longing at bay. No problem. But Matt doesn’t realize there are many kinds of hunger…and he isn’t in control of all of them.
7. How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow
Here is what happens when your mother dies.
It’s the brightest day of summer and it’s dark outside. It’s dark in your house, dark in your room, and dark in your heart. You feel like the darkness is going to split you apart. That’s how it feels for Tiger. It’s always been Tiger and her mother against the world. Then, on a day like any other, Tiger’s mother dies. And now it’s Tiger, alone.
Here is how you learn to make friends with the dark.
8. The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos
All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist; she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when she was a baby, a woman who was always possessed of a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as “troubled waters.”
Now Imogene is seventeen, and her father, a famous author of medical mysteries, has struck out in the middle of the night and hasn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. And she decides it’s up to her to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of reading her father’s books to track down a woman she’s only known in stories in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.
9. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.
Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.
Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.
Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.
Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.
Caden Bosch is torn.
10. We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.
Only he isn’t sure he wants to.
After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.
Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him. But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons…
11. Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa
Mira is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.
Jeremy is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn it’s as if he’s been expecting this blond, lanky boy with a mischief glinting in his eye.
Sebby, Mira’s gay best friend, is a boy who seems to carry sunlight around with him . Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.
As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.
12. Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti
Sometimes people want to be lost. Madison—Mads to everyone who knows her—is trying her best to escape herself during one last summer away from a mother who needs more from her than she can give, and from a future that has been decided by everyone but her.
Sometimes the lost do the unimaginable, like the woman, the body, Mads collides with in the middle of the water on a traumatic morning that changes everything.
And sometimes the lost are the ones left behind, like the son of the woman in the water, Billy Youngwolf Floyd. Billy is struggling to find his way through each day in the shadow of grief. His one comfort is the map he carries in his pocket, out of his favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
When three lives (and one special, shared book) collide, strange things happen. Things like questions and coincidences and secrets—lots of secrets. Things like falling in love. But can two lost people telling so many lies find their way through tragedy to each other…and to solid ground?
13. How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox
Biz knows how to float. She has her posse, her mum and the twins. She has Grace. And she has her dad, who tells her about the little kid she was, and who shouldn’t be here – because he died when she was seven – but is. So she doesn’t tell anyone her dark thoughts. She knows how to float, right there on the surface – normal okay regular fine.
But when the tethers that hold Biz steady come undone – when her dad disappears along with all comfort – might it be easier, better, sweeter to float away?
This is a mesmerising, radiant debut. It’s a story about love, grief, family and friendship, about intergenerational mental illness, and about how living with it is both a bridge and a chasm to the ones we’ve lost. Helena Fox explores the hard, bewildering and beautiful places loss can take us, and honours those who hold us tightly when the current wants to tug us out to sea.
14. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea, but when a new boy at school tempts her to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble.
Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl meets Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona in this acclaimed novel about art, fandom, and finding the courage to be yourself. “A must-have.”—School Library Journal
In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community.
Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.
15. For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig
Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood.
But ever since the colonizing army conquered their country, the old ways are forbidden, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad Emperor has a spring that cures his ills—and could cure Jetta’s, too. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues her.
But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.
16. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.
Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.
You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.
They don’t. They make a podcast.
In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence?
17. The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.
Know of an awesome book that grapples with mental health? Let us know in the comments!