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9 YA Books About Mental Illness You Should Read

I’ve seen multiple articles of people describing their experiences with mental health. Those are a great way to learn more about what it’s like to live with a mental disorder, but sometimes it isn’t enough. You don’t have that person’s full background or know who they are as a person in order to truly understand.

As an avid reader, I have found that reading books about characters with various mental disorders can be incredibly insightful.

There are books about characters who suffer from the disorders, and books about characters who live with others dealing with these disorders. Both are helpful, insightful, and generally great reads.

So if you’re looking for your next reading fix, want to know more about mental disorders, and/or are personally dealing with a mental disorder, I suggest reading these books!

1. Turtles All the Way Down — John Green

Green has openly stated that he drew on his personal experiences and struggles while writing “Turtles,” and it helped him come to terms and understand his disorder better. Not to mention, Green writes (mostly) realistic teenage characters. “Turtles All the Way Down” is about Aza, a girl who struggles with OCD and anxiety, as she works with her best friend to solve a mystery in return for a reward.

Hardcover copy of "Turtles All the Way Down" by John Green nestled next to 2 pink candles, a pink rock, and a stack of other books
Photo by @mary_queenofbooks on Instagram
2. Before She Ignites – Jodi Meadows

“Before She Ignites” is the first in the Forbidden Isles Trilogy. I just finished this book and was blown away. Jodi Meadows created a phenomenal fantasy world without losing any of the impact of her protagonist’s mental health. Mira is a powerful protagonist who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, using counting and numbers to help her through it. I highly recommend it to fantasy fans!

The book Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows on top of a pile of papers and a drawing of a dragon, with blue glass beads sprinkled around and little blue flowers resting on the left of the book
Photo by @jdkbooks on Instagram
3. Made You Up — Francesca Zappia

This book is a rollercoaster. The protagonist, Alex, has paranoia and schizophrenia. Every day is a struggle for her to distinguish what is real and what is her brain’s concoction — especially once she meets Miles, the boy who is identical to the one from Alex’s “memory” which caused Alex’s diagnosis. “Made You Up” is a powerful book that you won’t want to put down.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia book in a shallow white wooden box atop a brown-and-white fuzzy blanket, surrounded by pinecones, a lime, flower petals, and a paint set.
Photo by @thecrazyreaderm on Instagram
4. 13 Reasons Why — Jay Asher

Because if we’re going to talk about mental health, we need to talk about suicide and the reasons people feel compelled to do it. It is not enough to watch the Netflix show, particularly because of how it portrays suicide and rape. You need to read the book as well, because it includes so much more than the tapes and other people’s treatment of Hannah as to why she committed suicide. The book is so much more powerful than the show and gives you more detail.

Three copies of Thirteen Reasons Why. Far left has a colorized cover; middle copy is black, white and grey; and far right copy is a deluxe tenth anniversary edition with a golden play button on the front.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower — Stephen Chbosky

I won’t lie, I cried at the film — and the film doesn’t even include everything that happens, both in general and to Charlie. This is an emotional read, so emotionally prepare before reading. “Perks” is about an introverted boy named Charlie, who has experienced several traumatic events, including being sexual assault as a child and the suicide of his best friend. The book follows his experiences in his freshman year of high school with new friends Patrick and Sam.

Close-up of a paperback copy of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky resting on a couch
6. Little and Lion — Brandy Colbert

This book packs a diversity punch. It features people of color, LGBTQ characters, and discusses mental illness. “Little and Lion” is about Brandy, or “Little,” as she adjusts back to L.A. life after returning from her New England boarding school for the summer. She struggles to settle into her old life while also being emotional support for her brother Lionel, or “Lion,” as he struggles with bipolar disorder. Also, our protagonist is a black, bisexual, Jewish female who stands out among most protagonist in YA books today.

Overhead shot of "Little & Lion" by Brandy Colbert book resting on a black-and-white large diamond patterned tablecloth with a pot of purple flowers in the top diamond and the book in the bottom diamond
Photo by @quietmountainreader on Instagram
7. Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson

TRIGGER WARNING: for those who have struggled with an eating disorder, especially anorexia and bulimia, know this book may be triggering and I advise reading this with caution.

“Wintergirls” is about two best friends who are in a contest to be the skinniest—until one of the girls dies. The book follows the surviving girl, Lia, as she struggles to cope with the loss of her friend and to recover from her disorder.

Copy of "Wintergirls" by Laurie Halse Anderson standing in a snowy field with snow-covered trees behind it
Photo by @pagingserenity on Instagram
8. Under Rose-Tainted Skies — Louise Gornall

“Under Rose-Tainted Skies” really opened my eyes in understanding agoraphobia. Norah struggles with agoraphobia and is barely able to leave her house even for therapy. When her mother goes away for a week, she has to learn to be on her own. When a cute boy moves next door, Norah wants more than anything to appear normal.

This book is incredibly realistic: Norah is not magically cured by the end of the book, and definitely not by love. Also, the author herself has struggled with agoraphobia, OCD, and anxiety, so this book is based in true experiences.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall book on top of a wooden background next to a fuzzy blanket with a peach, gray and brown diamond pattern
Photo by @acourtofcrowns on Instagram
9. Fans of the Impossible Life — Kate Scelsa

“Fans of the Impossible Life” is one of many depression books I considered listing here. This book describes what depression is like and calls out the ridiculousness of existing stigmas about mental illness. Mira is a new student at Saint Francis Prep in attempts to be “normal” and have a new start. She struggles from crippling depression, often unable to leave her bed for days. This book features a biracial protagonist and LGBTQ supporting characters.

Paperback of "Fans of the Impossible Life" by Kate Scelsa atop a multi-patterned fuzzy blanket
Photo by @esotericareads on Instagram

*Originally posted on Odyssey

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