21 of the best YA books that get real about mental health

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Accurately depicting mental health is tough. Some people don’t talk about it enough, and others fall into the trap of spouting outdated myths and stigmatisms surrounding the issues.

These 21 books get it right when it comes to MHIs.

‘Turtles All The Way Down’ – John Green
Ya Mental Health Turtles All The Way Down
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John Green’s long-awaited return didn’t disappoint, there’s a reason he’s at the top of the YA world. ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ follows Aza Holmes who isn’t your average teenager; she’s bright but hemmed in by troubles: introverted, obsessed by bacteria and the transmission of disease, her every thought is edged by doubt and reflection.

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘When We Collided’ – Emery Lord
YA Mental Health When We Collided
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Seventeen-year-old Jonah Daniels has lived in Verona Cove, California, his whole life, and only one thing has ever changed: his father used to be alive, and now he’s not. Now Jonah must numbly take care of his family as they reel from their tragedy. Cue next change: Vivi Alexander, the new girl in town. Vivi is in love with life. A gorgeous and unfiltered hurricane of thoughts and feelings. She seems like she’s from another planet as she transforms Jonah’s family and changes his life. But there are always consequences when worlds collide … This is a fierce and beautiful love story with a difference.

Buy now in the UK and US.



‘All The Bright Places’ – Jennifer Niven
YA Mental Health All The Bright Places
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‘All The Bright Places’ navigates the very complicated and troubling world of mental illness in a moving and accessible way. This is a brilliant, compelling and heart-breaking book about two teenagers struggling with their lives, who find each other by chance. It’s full of refreshing honesty as it tackles the very serious issues surrounding MHIs. “Whatever you do, make it lovely.”

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Flight Of A Starling’ – Lisa Heathfield
YA Mental Health Flight Of A Starling
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In this heart-wrenching story, Lisa Heathfield makes you stroll through sadness until you realise too late that you’re waist deep in pain and then somehow you have to trudge through a crapload of emotions that stick to you long after the book is finished.

The story follows Rita and Lo, sisters and best friends, have spent their lives on the wing – flying through the air in their trapeze act, never staying in one place for long. Behind the greasepaint and the glitter, they know that the true magic is the family they travel with. Until Lo meets a boy.

Suddenly, she wants nothing more than to stay still. And as secrets start to tear apart the close-knit circus community, how far will Lo go to keep her feet on the ground?

Buy now in the UK and US.

’13 Reasons Why’ – Jay Asher
YA Mental Health 13 Reasons Why
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You might have seen the Selena Gomez directed Netflix show, but have you read the original book? Clay Jensen returns home from school one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it, outside his front door. Inside he discovers a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush. Only, she committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On the first tape, Hannah explains that there are 13 reasons why she did what she did – and Clay is one of them. If he listens, Clay will find out how he made the list – what he hears will change his life forever.

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Things I’m Seeing Without You’ – Peter Boganni
YA Books 2018 Things I'm Seeing Without You
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Seventeen-year-old Tess talks to Jonah every day; through texts, tweets and emails. So when she discovers Jonah has committed suicide, her world implodes. Feeling heartbroken and traumatized Tess unexpectedly finds herself at her estranged father’s house, wondering how well she really knew Jonah. Now, having dropped out of high school, struggling with questions about life and loss, Tess and her father come together to try and find the answers.

Pre-order for the UK and purchase in the US.

‘Mike’ – Andrew Norriss
YA Mental Health Mike Andrew Noriss
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Floyd is a star of under-18’s tennis. Since he was little, all he’s ever known is the routine of training, of the matches, of trying to be the best. But something strange is happening. A boy called Mike has started turning up – a boy no one else can see. He keeps appearing whenever Floyd is playing tennis and making him lose his game. Floyd needs to discover what Mike wants – and what that will mean for him, and where his life is headed. Floyd is at the start of a journey that will lead him into a headlong collision with his family, girls, friendship, and self-discovery.

Buy now in the UK.

‘The Start Of Me And You’ – Emery Lord
YA Mental Health The Start Of Me An
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Can you plan happiness? It’s been a year since Paige’s first boyfriend died in a swimming accident and it’s time she rejoined the real world. So she makes a plan:

1. Date a boy (long-standing crush Ryan Chase seems like the perfect choice)

2. Attend parties (with best friends by your side: doable)

3. Join a club (simple enough, right?)

4. Travel (might as well dream big)

5. Swim (terrifying. Impossible)

But when she meets Ryan’s sweet but so nerdy cousin, Max, he opens up her world and Paige’s plans start to change. Is it too late for a second chance at life?

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘The Crash’ – Lisa Drakeford
YA Mental Health The Crash
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Best friends Sophie and Tye are watching TV when a car crashes through the living room wall. The driver and passenger are twins, Harry and Gemma. Next door neighbour, eleven-year-old Issy, witnesses the accident. In the aftermath, Tye is thrown into a coma, Gemma’s dark past begins to haunt the present, and Sophie starts to fall for Harry – but how can she, when he was the driver who nearly killed her best friend? And Issy, meanwhile, hides a terrible secret…

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘It’s All In Your Head: A Guide To Getting Your Shit Together’ – Rae Earl
YA Mental Health It's All In Your Head
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This is a book to break down taboos, to start conversations, to help you talk about things that seem impossible. It’s a book for fans of Gemma Cairney and ‘Open’, Ruby Wax and ‘Frazzled’, Matt Haig and ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, Bryony Gordon and ‘Mad Girl.’ And most importantly, it’s a book to make you feel like you’re not alone. You’re really, really not.

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Eden Summer’ – Liz Flanagan
YA Mental Health Eden Summer
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When her best friend Eden doesn’t turn up for school one morning, Jess’s world is turned upside down. The police say Eden’s missing, and her boyfriend Liam is the prime suspect. So Jess starts retracing her steps. She looks back over the summer they spent together. She starts to notice new things. She questions everything she thought Eden’s summer had been about. And as the truth is revealed, she realises she needs to find Eden before the unthinkable happens…A thrilling journey through friendship, loss, betrayal and self-discovery.

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘But Then I Came Back’ – Estelle Laure
YA Mental Health But Then I Came Back
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Eden has always let her head lead the way. It’s why she excels at ballet, at school, and at life in general. But when she nearly drowns and then wakes from a month-long coma, everything is different. She’s troubled by dreams that seem more real than waking life, and her neat cookie-cutter existence is no longer satisfying.

Unable to stifle her passionate heart anymore, she finds herself drawn to a boy with melting-chocolate eyes, and to a future different to what she ever imagined. That’s when Eden discovers that when it comes to love, first you fall, then you have to leap.

Buy now in the UK and US.

Letters To The Lost‘ – Brigid Kemmerer
YA Mental Health Letters To The Lost
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Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-travelling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope. Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past. When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘The Memory Book’ – Lara Avery
YA Mental Health The Memory Book
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Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First, she’s going to win the national debating championship, then she’s going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer. But when Sam discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she’d planned so perfectly is derailed before its started. Realising that her life won’t wait to be lived, Sam sets out on a summer of firsts. The first party. The first rebellion. The first friendship. The last love.

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Am I Normal Yet?’ – Holly Bourne
YA Mental Health Am I Normal Yet
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All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there’s only one thing left to tick off her list…But relationships can mess with anyone’s head – something Evie’s new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won’t tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Mind Your Head’ – Juno Dawson
YA Mental Health Mind Your Head
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We all have a mind, so we all need to take care of our mental health as much as we need to take care of our physical health. The first step is being able to talk about our mental health. Juno Dawson leads the way with this frank, factual and funny book, with added information and support from clinical psychologist Dr Olivia Hewitt. Covering topics from anxiety and depression to addiction, self-harm and personality disorders, Juno and Olivia talk clearly and supportively about a range of issues facing young people’s mental health – whether fleeting or long-term – and how to manage them. With real-life stories from young people around the world and witty illustrations from Gemma Correll.

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Ostrich Boys’ – Keith Gray
YA Mental Health Ostrich Boys
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‘It’s not really kidnapping, is it? He’d have to be alive for it to be proper kidnapping.’ Kenny, Sim and Blake are about to embark on a remarkable journey of friendship. Stealing the urn containing the ashes of their best friend Ross, they set out from Cleethorpes on the east coast to travel the 261 miles to the tiny hamlet of Ross in Dumfries and Galloway. After a depressing and dispiriting funeral, they feel taking Ross to Ross will be a fitting memorial for a 15-year-old boy who changed all their lives through his friendship. Little do they realise just how much Ross can still affect life for them even though he’s now dead. Drawing on personal experience Keith Gray has written an extraordinary novel about friendship, loss and suicide, and about the good things that may be waiting just out of sight around the corner …

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Fangirl’ – Rainbow Rowell
YA Mental Health Fangirl
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Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair anymore – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible . . .

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ – Jandy Nelson
YA Mental Health The Sky Is Everywhere
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Jandy Nelson’s beautiful, funny and heartfelt novel about grief, love and forgiveness. Beautiful, funny and heartfelt, ‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ is about love and forgiveness. Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to centre stage of her own life – and suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two boys. One boy takes Lennie out of her sorrow; the other comforts her in it. But the two can’t collide without Lennie’s world exploding…

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Finding Audrey’ – Sophie Kinsella
YA Mental Health Finding Audrey
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Audrey can’t leave the house. she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house. Then her brother’s friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again – well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she’d thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable. Be prepared to laugh, dream and hope with Audrey as she learns that even when you feel like you have lost yourself, love can still find you…

Buy now in the UK and US.

‘Clean’ – Juno Dawson
YA Mental Health Clean Juno Dawson
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When socialite Lexi Volkov almost overdoses, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom.

She’s wrong. Rock bottom is when she’s forced into an exclusive rehab facility. From there, the only way is up for Lexi and her fellow inmates, including the mysterious Brady. As she faces her demons, Lexi realises love is the most powerful drug of all … Addiction and redemption, love and despair.

Pre-order now in the UK and US.

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