21 bloggers recommend their favourite YA books about mental health
"Stories have the power to make readers feel seen, offering a comfort that only seeing those parts of yourself and your story in a character can give."
When it comes to discussing why mental health representation in literature is so important, the list is almost endless. It helps educate people on the experiences of others and themselves, it can allow people to discover a part of themselves they may not have previously understood, it serves to eradicate harmful stigmas and instead, works to normalise discussion. Living with a mental illness and feelings of loneliness often go hand in hand, but stories have the power to make readers feel seen, offering a comfort that only seeing those parts of yourself and your story in a character can give.
In particular, mental health representation in YA can be life-changing. In a world where discussing diagnoses and experiences surrounding mental illness has only recently started to become less taboo, for many young adults, it’s not rare for YA literature to be the first place they get to see their experience portrayed in a raw and honest way, that doesn’t demonise, stigmatise or dramatise. Whilst mental health representation undoubtedly still has a way to go, there’s no denying the strides it has taken in the past few years. Still, the desire for YA books discussing mental illness in a way that doesn’t exclude any experience, whether that be regarding diagnosis, race, sexuality, gender, class, culture etc. is not going anywhere, and rightly so. No two people will experience mental illness the same way, meaning no two people will connect to a book discussing mental illness in the same way but that doesn’t make those experiences any less valid.
In the hopes of getting more of these important stories onto the radar of readers, we asked 21 fabulous book bloggers to share a YA title they loved featuring mental health representation and it’s safe to say, they did not disappoint.
“Starfish by Akemi Daren Bowman has a great anxiety representation with main character Kiko written like myself as a person. She struggles to speak her mind which I struggle with a lot. The writing style worked really well, in the sense that I could really feel what Kiko had gone through with her thoughts. For anyone with anxiety, you can definitely relate to Kiko!”
“I want to recommend Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. I love it because one of the characters, Evie lives with OCD. As someone who has lived with OCD, I can say that the representation of the illness was really good. I related a lot to Evie. I also loved it because it was also very funny. I was laughing throughout as well as crying. Holly Bourne has an amazing talent at discussing difficult subjects in a way that isn’t too serious but still gets the message home. I think this book is really eye-opening for showing what it’s like to live with OCD and I recommend it to people who have OCD or those who want to find out more about what it’s really like to live with the illness.”
“This book holds a very special place in my heart. It was the first time I ever read about a character like me in YA literature. Evie has both anxiety and OCD and these are things that I have struggled with, and still do, and to read about her was very refreshing and also reassuring to an extent. There were actually times where I had to stop reading and say to my boyfriend “oh my gosh I do that!”, like how Evie prefers to sit at the end of a row in the cinema to help ease her anxiety. I love this book not only because it deals with mental health, but also because of how it deals with it. Evie is still just a teenager doing normal teenage things (whatever normal is), trying to cope with boys and starting at a new college but at the same time is dealing with this difficult issue. Representation is so important in YA, in all areas, and it’s something I look forward to seeing more of.”
“My recommendation for a book with own voices OCD rep is History Is All You Left Me. Adam Silvera does an incredible job of bringing us into Griffin’s mind when he’s experiencing compulsions and opening our eyes to the reality of living with OCD. I can’t personally speak for the accuracy of the rep, but Silvera describes Griffin’s experiences with the sensitivity and care of someone who wants to incite compassion and in his readers, and help us better understand of how each person experiences OCD differently.”
“M.K. England does an awesome job of portraying different types of anxiety disorders in their debut novel, The Disaster. The main character, Nax, experiences a lot of anxiety (possibly PTSD) over events in his past, and one of the others in the group, Case talks about her panic attacks and taking medication for anxiety. The topic is met with acceptance and any stigma is challenged. I related so much to both characters because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder like Case does and some of the not-so-great coping mechanisms that Nax shows. Plus it’s just a fun story about teens in space! What more could you want?”
“I’d like to recommend Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. So many of Frances’ thoughts and experiences with her anxiety reflect mine, especially when she’s out with her school friends. She mentions hiding who she truly is and being “School Frances” in order to fit in with them. There are also just several other moments where she thinks the way that I do, and it truly meant a lot to me to see a book with a character with anxiety that reflects the way that my anxiety affects me. Also, it’s just overall an amazing book!”
“Girls in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is an essential book to me, and one I’d highly recommend, for several reasons. The first of these is that when I read the synopsis, I felt a personal connection to the main character, Charlie. She has a lot of personal trauma and mental illness to deal with and her coping method (see trigger warnings above) is one that felt personal to me.
Kathleen Glasgow handled Charlie’s story masterfully and with a lot of respect for the subject. Charlie, as well as other characters, met within, are enhanced on the page by meeting each other. Glasgow’s use of longer and shorter paragraphs to symbolize Charlie’s dark and “real” world times puts the book on another level. Girl in Pieces, between the people in the book and the crafting of the book itself, is a book about mental illness that really speaks to readers, even more so to those that relate to Charlie as I did.”
“Upside is one of my all-time favourite books in general, but the anxiety rep, in particular, is probably the best I’ve ever read. Becky Albertalli has a particular magic for writing the teenage experience and for a lot of people (*raises hand*), anxiety is a part of that experience. Molly’s struggles with anxiety feel so true to my own. Plus, she takes medication! And it’s discussed on the page!”
“Eliza and Her Monsters is one of those books that I sped through in one sitting, so wholly invested in the characters, the story, the writing, that I just couldn’t pull myself away. Eliza’s journey is such a powerful one, and she’s one of the fiercest characters I’ve read, given all she’s gone through. It’s a book that made me feel so seen and is truly a modern story that readers will find powerful–in its highs and lows. I would wholeheartedly recommend Eliza and Her Monsters, especially for teens who feel alone and need a book that’s relatable and real and honest.”
“In most books, we find a part of ourselves, a little something we can relate too, the feeling of looking at your life in perspective for one minute. Eliza and her monsters was like watching myself in the mirror. I felt 100% like Eliza while reading her, her anxiety and social phobia was just like mine. Her thoughts had crossed my mind at some point.
Reading the story of Eliza and her monsters helped me understand a part of my anxiety better, I cannot put it into words, but I felt understood for a minute. For that minute I felt like there was someone with me, not alone in the anxiety. And that’s why I recommend this book because maybe it can make feel someone else less lonely and understood. “
“When asked about a book that has helped with my mental health, I always bring up Perks. It did more than help me feel less alone; through the main character, Charlie, I became more aware of my own mental illness and what sexual assault was. This book holds a special place for me because I see it as the tipping point. In the sense that it pushed me to get out of my abusive relationship and to eventually seek help.”
“The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan is a gorgeously crafted and entrancing story. It has the most gorgeous prose and is incredibly emotive. I loved how it doesn’t demonise or romanticise mental illness, but it also doesn’t shy away from the messy complexity of grief, something which I have unfortunately experienced. A couple of years ago, I lost three close family members in the space of a year, so I went through a dark time of bereavement. This book made me feel seen and realise that it wasn’t just in my head, so it will always have a special place in my heart.”
“All Our Broken Pieces is the books I needed when I got the chance to read an ARC. It has the most sensitive, careful, and accurate depiction of OCD that I have ever come across. As I struggle with OCD myself, reading Lennon’s story resonated with me, and I love that her story can be used to allow people to better understand the realities people live with every day. Beyond its representation, it also features a super cute, heartfelt, supportive romance that I’d love to see more of in YA.”
I have to admit I sat sobbing on my sofa at points in this book for both happy and sad parts. It’s amazing, I will forever recommend it. It holds a special place in my heart!”
“In Under Rose-Tainted Skies, the main character, Norah, struggles with agoraphobia, OCD, and anxiety. Even though I don’t struggle with 2/3 of those, I related to Norah. This book is so well done, is #OwnVoices, and it deserves so much more love.”