Mental Illness Awareness Week: YA Fiction

The National Alliance on Mental Illness honors Mental Illness Awareness Week during the first week in October. To mark the occasion, I'm highlighting some of the many characters in YA fiction who deal with mental health challenges.

I first read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sanchez, a couple of years ago. I considered it when working on last month’s post, and decided to listen to a little bit of the audiobook to refresh my memory… and just kept listening as the story hooked me in all over again. The audiobook was excellent. The narrator really captured Julia’s direct voice, which somehow manages to be simultaneously quirky, shocking, and matter-of-fact.

Julia’s perfect sister Olga has just died unexpectedly, and grief worsens Julia’s already strained relationship with her parents. When Julia finds clues that Olga wasn’t so perfect after all, she feels compelled to uncover the truth about her sister. Over time, Julia slides into depression, ending up in the hospital after a suicide attempt. The book spans a two-year time frame, following Julia’s realistic progress toward recovery. Along the way, Julia learns more than one family secret, and wrestles with her new knowledge: is telling the truth always the right thing to do?

I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
Grades 8 and up
OverDrive; Hoopla; Library Catalog
“In an emotionally complex story about finding acceptance and redefining family, 18-year-old Ben is rejected by their parents when they come out as nonbinary. They’re taken in by their older sister, Hannah, who was also driven out by their conservative and judgmental parents 10 years earlier…. Debut author Deaver portrays Ben’s reaction to the difficult situation, including panic attacks and anxiety, with care and empathy, and readers will be filled with joy and hope as Ben begins to grow toward self-acceptance.” –Publisher's Weekly

Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive
“It’s indie vs. mainstream when star-crossed comics enthusiasts Jubilee and Ridley, both bisexual, meet at FabCon prom. Accomplished cellist Jubilee is hoping to de-stress before an important upcoming audition, while anxious, depressed Ridley just wants to stop failing his volatile father.” –Publisher's Weekly

Lightness of Hands by Jeff Garvin
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive
“Highs and lows come in big waves for 16-year-old Ellie Dante, the bipolar daughter of a down-and-out magician with a heart condition, whose career plummeted after his infamous Truck Drop trick went wrong 10 years ago. The Dantes are at rock bottom in Indiana, living in a rundown RV with no gigs and no money for much-needed medication, when an offer comes that could put Ellie’s father’s career back on track.” –Publisher's Weekly

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive; Library Catalog
“High-school junior Aza has an obsessive fear of being infected with the bacteria Clostridium difficile (“C. diff”), which can be fatal. Her fear has become obsession, plaguing her with “intrusives,” thoughts that take over her mind, making her feel that she is not the author of her own life.” –Booklist

This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio
Grades 8 and up
OverDrive
“Jocelyn Wu has a plan to save her family's struggling Chinese restaurant in Utica, NY. With her father's reluctant approval she decides to hire a summer intern to help out at the restaurant and increase its online presence. Enter William Domenici, new intern and aspiring journalist looking for a story…. Will, diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when he was younger, has spent years learning how to manage his anxiety with the help of his therapist.” –School Library Journal

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall
Grades 10 and up
OverDrive; Hoopla; Library Catalog
“Seventeen-year-old Norah Dean hasn't left her house in four years, and the only people she allows around her are her mother and her therapist. She has been diagnosed with agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety, and because she attends school online, she experiences life mainly via social media. Norah's tightly structured world begins to change when her new, very cute neighbor Luke spies her using a stick to pull groceries in from the porch.” –School Library Journal

On a Scale of One to Ten by Ceylan Scott
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive; Hoopla; Library Catalog
“‘”Jump, Iris,” she said. “I'll follow you.”‘ Iris jumped. Tamar didn't, and she's left grappling with the belief that she's a murderer. They were both 15 on the summer day Iris drowned in the weir. Over a year later Tamar's attempt at suicide lands her in Lime Grove with other mentally ill teens.” –Publisher's Weekly

Challenger Deep by Neal and Brendan Shusterman
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive; Hoopla; Library Catalog
“Fantasy becomes reality in an exploration of mental illness based partly on the experiences of the author's son, who is also the book's illustrator. For 14-year-old Caden Bosch, his gradual descent into schizophrenia is a quest to reach the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest place on Earth. In an internal reality that's superimposed over Caden's real life—where his behavior slips from anxiety to hearing voices and compulsively obeying signage—an Ahab-like captain promises riches in exchange for allegiance, while his parrot urges mutiny for a chance at life ashore.” –Kirkus Reviews

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
Grades 9 and up
OverDrive; Hoopla; Library Catalog
“After a failed suicide attempt, 16-year-old Vicky Cruz wakes up in a hospital's mental ward, where she must find a path to recovery—and maybe rescue some others. Vicky meets Mona, Gabriel, and E.M.—a clan very different from Vicky primarily because of their economic limitations—at Lakeview Hospital. There, with the guidance of their group-therapy leader, Dr. Desai, they daily delve into deep-seated issues that include anger management, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and schizophrenia.” –Kirkus Reviews

Categories: Authors & Books, Featured, Homepage Teens, Library News, and Teens.

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