Young Adult Novels About Mental Illness

November 12, 2019

One of the most difficult parts of living with a mental illness is not knowing if anyone feels the same way, if what you feel is normal. Beyond those WebMD searches and Mayo Clinic reports is a world of literature with the purpose of sharing the experiences of those living with mental illness to create a community. Here are my top young adult novel picks that cover the subject of mental illness beautifully and tastefully: 

 

DRUG ADDICTION: 

Crank by Ellen Hopkins 

Often forgotten amongst the list of mental illnesses, drug addiction can feel isolating and scary. Crank by Ellen Hopkins is a beautifully written story about Kristina, a teenage girl who suffers from a dangerous addiction to crystal meth. Told through eloquent prose, the novel opens the everyday person's eyes to the struggles and emotions of people suffering from drug addiction, allowing the audience to become more sympathetic and aware. This novel also provides a list of support options and helplines. Someone who finds themselves in a similar situation to Kristina can realize they are not alone and can encourage them to reach out for help.  

 

“Crank, you see

isn’t any ordinary 

monster. It’s like a 

giant octopus, 

weaving

its tentacles not

just around you, 

but through you,

squeezing

not hard enough to

kill you, but enough 

to keep you from 

reeling

until you try to get

Away.” 

  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins 

 

PTSD AND GRIEF: 

Love Letters To the Dead by Ava Dellaira

A poignant story that follows Laurel as she navigates high-school after the death of her sister May. Told through letters to dead famous people, such as Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, as per an English project, Laurel encapsulates the struggle to feel normal and the desire to reach out to those who are no longer living. Grief is often isolating, and people feel as though they have to rush to get over the pain. This beautiful novel forces the reader to stop and just feel whatever feelings may come over them.

 

“There are some things I can’t tell anyone, except the people who aren’t here anymore”

  • Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

 

EATING DISORDERS: 

WinterGirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

A story about Lia and Cassie, two girls caught in a competition over who can be the skinniest. When Cassie passes away as a result of the illness, Lia explores how it feels to be trapped in your own mind. As Lia struggles with anorexia and guilt, she provides a heartbreaking and deep, introspective look into the life of someone struggling with an eating disorder. This book will open the reader’s mind to the complicated relationship others share with food, exploring warped self-image and the way they fight with their own thoughts every day. 

 

“‘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.”

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

 

Paperweight by Meg Haston

This novel follows the life of Stevie, a 17 year old who struggles with an eating disorder. When her condition becomes severe, she is sent to a treatment facility in New Mexico for 60 days. In this realistic and well researched novel, the reader is taken into the mind of a teenager who is struggling with her illness and her recovery and depicts what a treatment center is like. The story is told with honesty and does not hold back. Meg Haston is not afraid to talk about the brutal, stigmatized truth people often shy away from. Haston does a wonderful job of demonstrating that eating disorders are not just about food. This book may be difficult to read for someone suffering from an eating disorder, as it is graphic and may trigger unhealthy thoughts or behaviour, but it is an excellent way for an outsider to understand the struggle of living with the illness. 

 

“But we are a group of girls so overwhelmed by our mere existence that it's almost paralyzing, the idea of dealing with the "big picture" issues. It's the reason we got this way to begin with. The reason a single caloric unit takes on such importance, the reason the pound becomes our currency of worth. These are things we can manage.”

  • Paperweight by Meg Haston


 

SCHIZOPHRENIA : 

Whisper to Me by Nick Lake 

This novel follows Cassie, a teenage girl writing a letter to a boy whose heart she broke in the summer. The letter aims to explain why she pushed him away, why her father would not let them be together, why she struggles so much, and what went wrong. As the novel progresses, the reader follows Cassie’s journey and learns of her battle with schizophrenia. This novel is incredibly enlightening for anyone who is not familiar with the illness. The reader gets a glimpse into the symptoms and the way the mental illness affects daily life and relationships. Cassie’s character is intelligent and funny, yet we see her fragility throughout the novel: she is a very honest and realistic character, possessing tangible emotions. The romantic plot is woven perfectly with the depiction of real life mental illness. Lake deals with the subject tastefully and with respect, ensuring his characters are multifaceted with honest and raw depictions. It was an entertaining, educating and certainly emotional read. 

 

 "If someone has cancer, they're brave and fighting. If someone is having problems with their mind, that person is only ever struggling. This is, on one level, stupid and offensive. I mean the people who die of cancer- what they didn’t fight hard enough? They weren’t brave enough? But on the other hand, when it comes to the mind breaking down, it’s not wrong that you struggle. I struggled. Everything was hard. Getting up. Getting dressed. Going to school. The voice would say: Change into something prettier. You look like a ******* bum” 

  • Whisper to Me by Nick Lake


 

Of course, these novels are fictional and should not be taken at face value – they are not textbooks about mental illnesses. They are, however, an excellent place to start if you are looking to learn more about what it is like to live with a mental illness, or if you are looking for a character that represents how you feel. These novels can provide readers with a desire to learn more about mental illnesses, inciting questions and further research.

 

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