Skip to main content

YA Book Picks for Mental Health Awareness Month


May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I think the importance of recognizing it is even clearer this year. According to the WHO, one in four people around the world will be impacted by either a mental or neurological disorder over the course of their lifetime. That means that 450 million people are dealing with one of these conditions. It's amazing to think that the most prevalent health issue worldwide is still so stigmatized and misunderstood. The importance of understanding and being open about mental health is paramount because the silence and stigma that surrounds it leaves people feeling alone, isolated, or stops them from discovering a diagnosis that will put them on the path to healing.
Books play an important role in spreading both empathy and understanding. They allow the reader to live fully in someone else's experience and more deeply understand what it's like for other people. They dispel the idea that people battling these diseases are broken, weird, or strange, and they prove to those struggling that there are options to get help. That it can get better. It's so important for teens to both see themselves and see other experiences, especially if they don't live in households that have open conversations around mental health.
These kinds of books have been a major focus of my blog over the last three years, so I have a ton of favorites. I've passionately championed many of these over the years and made many lists to highlight them. I wanted this list to be a bit different. This means that tons of my favorites aren't included because I've talked about them a ton in the last year, and I want to make sure I keep giving new recommendations. If you're looking for more, check out my other major list with books I don't mention here, My Safe Space Books post.
My focus for today is representing as many different experiences and mental health disorders as possible, and I encourage you to choose a book from each. Even within a single category, the diversity of symptoms, experiences, and treatments are varied. Reading widely is the ultimate path to understanding. This post features a mix of new and backlist books and each one is linked by the title to my review so you can learn more.

Anxiety
According to the ADAA, "Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year." There are many different kinds of anxiety, and I tried to choose books that offered a glimpse into a variety of experiences.

I immediately connected with Maeve when I picked up this book three years ago. Her brain has a nasty habit of holding on to death stats. She knows all the dangerous things and is always thinking about the ways she could die. It's stopped her from driving, among other things. (I liked that this element was pointed out and shows up with many characters on this list. Yes, it's possible. Not every teen is desperate to drive, and the issues around it often run deeper than parents might understand). She even drafts obituaries in her head. Maeve's story focuses on learning to cope with anxiety in the midst of her life being upended. 

In Starfish, Kiko, the main character, deals with social anxiety that makes it hard for her to interact with the world. There are many difficult issues at play, but it is exacerbated by her narcissistic mother's constant verbal attacks on her. What I appreciated about this book is that as Kiko heals, gets out of her situation, and comes into her own, her anxious impulses don't go away. She just learns how to manage and control them. I thought that was an important element to include because those with clinical anxiety never stop having anxious thoughts, and that expectation can be damaging. Learning to manage helps immensely though. 

Ari represents another face of anxiety. It wasn't always a major presence in his life, but mounting pressure from school, college applications, and the overwhelming expectation that he should be perfect starts to damage his mental health. From panic attacks to dips into depression, the immense pressure of school can completely alter a student's life. The negative effects of schools on their students really does need to be explored more.

Verona Comics
Ridley's anxiety looks a lot like mine. He has generalized anxiety that Jennifer Dugan illustrates well with his stream of unhelpful, random thoughts. It makes it hard for him to participate in social situations, and figuring out the right thing to say often gets so overwhelming that nothing ends up coming out. Some days, he's better at overcoming the unhelpful, running editorial than others, but the author captures the ever presence and influence of anxiety quite well. 

Depression
Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined
Ingrid's life is upended when her opera singer mother's voice failed. Throughout the difficult time, Ingrid sinks further into herself until her mother sends her to a three week camp for troubled teens in the wilderness. It's less than ideal, but it might be a change she actually needs.

Nice Try Jane Sinner
Jane left her high school after an incident to finish the last of her credits at community college. Even though she's not a college student, her classmates embrace her, and she lies her way into a student reality show project. Even with the distractions of her fresh start, Jane still has to confront the depression that lead her there.

Eliza and Her Monsters
Eliza lives in her online world. She's the creator of a successful web comic that has tons of fan online. At school, though, she's lonely, isolated, and called a freak. Her battle depression causes an internal tug of war as her self-worth is bolstered by her creations and decimated by her regular life. Making connections to help, but it's hard for her to trust and to want to let people in. The new kid is set on trying, though.

Imagine Us Happy
Stella was battling with intense depression before she met Kevin. Her life feels like it's imploding, and she doesn't know how to take charge of the problems she faces. The problem is only made worse when her new relationship with Kevin turns toxic. Although they aren't good for each other, Stella fights with everything she has to keep them together. If she wants to heal, she has to learn to let go of her past and of people who shouldn't be in her life anymore.

This new release takes a very honest look at what it means to get help for mental illness. Will has anxiety and panic attacks that he got diagnosed early on. He has a supportive family, though they encourage him to hide his anxiety and avoid medication. Still, being able to go to therapy has helped him greatly. Jocelyn's family doesn't talk about those kinds of issues. Even as she feels like she's drowning in a darkness she doesn't understand, she doesn't know where she could go for help. Will recognizes her depression, but even as he encourages her to get help, she has to fight her internal biases to accept it.

Schizophrenia 
Schizophrenia is one of the more underrepresented categories in YA books. It's also the most stigmatized and misunderstood. Medication plays an imperative role in the treatment process, and that is emphasized throughout the book. It also shows how finding the right treatment is a lot of difficult trial and error. Not every drug works for every person. Adam was a great character to follow. He's hilarious, and it's great to also see his parent's support. I also liked that it was told in journal form, in letters to his therapist, which allowed us to really get in his head.

Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar is another widely misunderstood, and often glamorized, mental illness. Finding quality representation that doesn't fall into romanticization can be tricky because, as glowing as people can seem during mania, it is a truly destructive state, and the depression side is also debilitating.  
When the book starts, Mel is struggling with her recent bipolar diagnosis. It has run in her family, so it's not necessarily surprising, but she has to discover what that means to her. Lindstrom shows the difficulty in finding the right mix of medication and therapy and the ups and downs when it comes to management. Most of all, though, Mel is never defined by the disorder. She has a full life with family and friends outside of managing her symptoms, and that's super important to showcase. 

OCD
I've talked about this book a lot because I personally identified with it a lot. Lennon suffers from OCD, which is made worse by having to move in with her dad suddenly after her mom's passing. She worries if she doesn't do her ritual tapping or flicking the light switch a certain number of times, her loved ones will die. I loved that the book put an emphasis on therapy helping her work through her struggles and on showing both good and bad days because there is a constant push and pull. 

While Lennon's OCD focuses on preventing death, Aza is plagued by other kinds of control questions like if she really controls her brain, and if she doesn't, what does that mean? Mostly, it manifests in a fear around the bacteria in and around her which leads to skin picking and compulsive cleaning. Green blends the reality of all encompassing intrusive thoughts with a story of friendship and ominous mystery. Even if you're not a fan of Green's other books, this own voices story is a departure from his previous books.

PTSD
PTSD is most widely associated with soldiers who return from combat. While they do make up a large number of cases, there are many other traumatic events that can induce PTSD. These two books show that. 
This book completely blew me away. It's the last book I read in a single sitting. I didn't get up once. I couldn't stop reading. Both Mara and her best friend Hannah have experienced a sexual assault in the past. While the intertwining of the plot is hard to explain quickly, they both spend the book grappling with what happened to them and fighting for a sense of normalcy through the flashbacks and trauma. Blake does an amazing job of showcasing the lasting effects and pain and how it impacts both girls lives. 
This recent release delves into the far reaching effects of school shootings years after people stop paying attention. May lost her brother to the shooting and was in the band room herself when it happened. She still has flashbacks, particularly around loud, sudden noises. May has rearranged her life in an attempt to cope and limit her exposure to different triggers. Lawson does an amazing job showing the painful realities and the long road to learning to cope with the PTSD symptoms. 

Grief 
You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone
Tovah and Adina both know they might have genetic markers for a predisposition to Huntington's disease. Their mother is slowly declining because of it. Now that they're 18, genetic testing can reveal  their fate. As the twins rustle with the choice, they worry and grieve for the parts of their mother they lose every day and that they might be on that same path. Each girl reacts differently, but the stress leaves a major impact on both of them. 

How To Make Friends With The Dark
Kathleen Glasgow always writes stunning novels that take on mental health topics. I would completely recommend her other novel, Girl In Pieces, as well. This book deals with crushing grief and uncertainty after Tiger loses her mother, the only relative she really has. It also deals with the foster system and other major issues. Mostly, though, Tiger's grief and its impact bursts off the page to pull at your heart.

Links of Interest:
We Were Promised Spotlights
Conan Gray's Kid Krow Meets YA
Breath Like Water
End of The Driveway: Original Story 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Swimming Lessons By Lili Reinhart Poetry Review

Swimming Lessons by Lili Reinhart Overall: 5This is the first poetry book I've ever read in its entirety outside of Shel Silverstein, so I've checked off one of my reading goals for the year with this one. I've now read a graphic novel and a book of poetry. I've been anticipating Swimming Lessons so long that I can't believe it's actually in my hands. I've been a fan of Lili since Riverdale, and I've continued to be a fan of hers even when the show got a bit too ridiculous for me to keep watching every week. I've been excited for the chance to get to see something completely created a controlled by Lili. I'm not sure what I expected from Swimming Lessons. I think I had almost no idea what it would be like or the topics it would cover. After the first couple poems, I was completely hooked. In the intro, Lili prefaces the collection by noting that poetry has always given her solace in knowing other people felt the same specific emotions that she d…

This Is All Your Fault Blog Tour Stop

Hi, everybody! Today, I'm a part of a book tour for Turn the Pages Tours letting you know about Aminah Mae Safi's book, This Is All Your Fault. If you've always dreamed about working in a bookstore, this new book will be perfect for you. It's about a group of teen booksellers who have to band together to help save the store. Check out the full description down below to get to know the book and learn more about Aminah through her author bio and the links to her social media! If you want to pick up the book right now, I'll leave a link to the book on Bookshop here which helps support the blog because it's an affiliate link, which means the blog might get a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you. It's a great way to support the blog while shopping for books! If you'd rather not shop at Bookshop, here's the general purchase linkDescription: Set over the course of one day, Aminah Mae Safi's This Is All Your Fault is a smart and…

How It All Blew Up: YA Book Review

How It All Blew Up by Arvin AhmadiOverview: Amir left before graduation. He just drove out of town and got on a plane to New York and then another on to Italy. Instead of paying the blackmail money or facing his conservative, Iranian family's reaction to him being outed as gay, he runs. In Rome, he stumbles into a found family of gay guys, many American, who take him under their wing. With these new friends in Rome, Amir feels like he can truly be himself for once in his life. With the money from editing Wikipedia pages, he wonders if he can just stay in Italy forever. But when he can't ignore his family's calls and drama starts up in the friend group, Amir realizes that you can't keep running forever. Overall: 4Characters: 4 Amir is well developed, and I enjoyed living in his brain. He's lost and constantly scared, but he also has a fearless streak that gets him to Rome in the first place. Most of all, he's confused. He feels like his identities contradict eac…

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of Missing Out by Kate McGovern 
Overview: Astrid has a form of brain cancer called astrocytoma that causes a star shaped tumor to form near her brainstem. Though she was in remission, two years later, the cancer comes back, and Astrid becomes convinced that she won't beat the disease. She starts to pursue options that will allow her to have a life in the future, namely, cryopreservation. After essentially freezing her body, she hopes to wake up when there's a cure for her cancer so she can rejoin the world and see some of the milestones she fears missing.
On the road trip to tour the Arizona facility, though, Astrid makes other realizations about her life and eventual death that alters how she sees her original plan. Overall: 4 

Characters: 4 Astrid is relatable. She has a touch of dry, witty humor that makes her relatable. She loves her friends and family deeply, but she also has a conviction to follow what feels best for her. I appreciated how she always tried to stay ho…

September 2020 Wrap Up

I've honestly been stuck on what to write for this wrap up. I guess I'm surprised that September is finally over? It's been another boringly eventful month. I've been much busier trying to balance two blogs, YouTube, and college. I feel like I'm managing everything okay, but it's still a lot to process on some days when you factor in everything else going on in the world. I'm in a weird place of feeling totally lost and stagnant and also like I'm making some major strides towards getting where I want to go. It's hard to remember that it takes a long time build something up, and the process is something to enjoy too. I'm trying not to dwell on what's out of my control. Reflecting back on the month, I've accomplished a lot more than I felt like I did when I sat down to write this. A lot of what I'm most proud of myself, I'm not going to talk about in a ton of detail yet because I'm super superstitious about talking about things…

Books I'm Looking Forward To: October 2020

October means fall, Halloween, and some brand new books! This is a short list this time with a couple books I've had my eyes on for a while. As always, if you want to preorder a copy of any of these books (it helps authors a ton), I have preorder links to Bookshop through my affiliate page. That means shopping these links might give me a small commission at no cost to you! It's a great way to support the blog. Let me know in the comments which books you're looking forward to most in October. Also, I'd love YA thriller recommendations. I'm looking forward to doing another Halloween post like two years ago featuring some newer thrillers/creepy books. Let me know if you have a favorite. Also, don't forget to check out my September Favorites YouTube VideoOne Way or Another by Kara McDowellOctober 6Get a CopyI'm in the middle of reading this one now! In just a couple days, Kara will be releasing a brand new book. Paige has an impossible choice. Go with her lon…

Clap When You Land: YA Book Review

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth AcevedoTW: sex trafficking, sexual assault, grief, loss of a parentClick Here To Get a Copy! Overview: Camino and Yahaira are sisters, but they don't know it yet. Camino's dad spends most of the year in NYC making money to send back to the Dominican Republic. Yaharia's father always spent the summers away doing business in the Dominican Republic. They don't know that when their dad is gone, he's really visiting the other daughter until his plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean. The aftermath and grieving process bring them together. While the grief and loss leaves a giant hole, it also opens new possibilities. Overall: 4Characters: 5 Yahaira and Camino are both super relatable. Their voices are so similar yet distinct, and you can see how growing up in two different cultures, yet still heavily influenced by each other, developed their points of view. Camino has a lot of assumptions about her American sister, assuming their rich and t…

Grown: YA Book Reviews

Grown by Tiffany D. JacksonTW: (from the title page of the book) sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, and addiction to opioids Overview: Enchanted just wants to be a singer. Living in the suburbs, she doesn't know how this will happen until she gets noticed by Korey Fields at an audition. She doesn't make the show, but she gets taken under his wing. She just wants a career, and she wants to be loved, and she wants to be told she's beautiful. Korey does all that and more. He also has money and power- more things Enchanted lacks. She wants to be an adult and take life on, but she's fallen into the hands of an abuser and master manipulator. Coming out the other side leaves Korey dead and Enchanted trying to find her footing. Overall: 5Characters: 5 All of these characters are extremely vivid. Enchanted is such a good main character. She has confidence and is so smart. But you can see her little vulnerabilities that Korey expertly exploits. It's clear …

Into YA with Kristina Forest

I'm super excited to bring you another edition of Into YA, this time with one of my new favorite YA authors, Kristina Forest. While I'm sure you've already heard about Now That I've Found You, you can get caught up by reading my review here. Thank you to Kristina for taking the time to chat with me, and I hope you enjoy our conversation. If you want to help support the blog, please consider grabbing a copy through my Bookshop affiliate link here1. In Now That I Found You, all of your main characters are famous. Evie and her family are huge in the film industry, and love interest, Milo, is on the rise with his band. Did that require extra research to write about for either the music or film industries?
It didn’t require much research. I’ve always been interested in old Hollywood and I’m a big fan of movies and music, and I’ve watched dozens of documentaries and/or biopics so I felt pretty prepared to write the story without having to do additional research.
2. Once Ev…

Books I'm Looking Forward To: November 2020 (5 YA Books and Poetry!)

Sorry I've been gone so much this month! It's hard to keep up my regular reading schedule with school. The last two weeks, I've been dealing with midterms and finals for different classes, so there's been plenty of extra work. I'm working on getting back to reading so I can share some more reviews with you very soon, but I should be back to regular posting this week.  Since it's almost a new month, I figured it's a good time to get excited about the brand new books that are coming in November and get some last minute preordering done to support these books! This month is a little bit different because I'm including a broader range of titles. I have a couple I've preordered already, some suggested to me on Twitter, a fantasy book I'm considering reading, and a book of poetry that I have wanted for months and months. I can't believe Halsey's book is finally out. In each book feature, there's a preorder button you can click to preorder th…