Straightforward YA Books About Mental Illness

Mental illness among teenagers and young adults has become an increasingly prevalent problem in recent years, and 1 in 5 American youth ages 13-18 are currently living with a mental health condition. Since these types of illnesses can feel incredibly isolating, it’s especially important for those affected to feel like they are not alone. Books are a great way to do this, so here are some examples of young adult novels that deal with issues of mental health especially well. 

Made You Up

Author: Francesca Zappia
Reading level: ages 14 and up
Issues discussed: hallucinations, paranoia, schizophrenia

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up. A fan says, “It beautifully portrays schizophrenia.”

Thirteen Reasons Why

Author: Jay Asher
Reading level: ages 12 and up
Issues discussed: bullying, depression, grief, suicide

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside are several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush, who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Her voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. By listening to the tapes, Clay becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and what he discovers changes his life forever. A fan says, “I recommend it to everybody. It’s about feeling suicidal and it was the first book I read in which the author really seemed to understand what it’s like to feel that depressed, that hopeless, that out of control.”

Fans of the Impossible Life

Author: Kate Scelsa
Reading level: ages 12 and up
Issues discussed: anxiety disorders, depression, foster homes, isolation, sexual orientation

Mira is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with her best friend. Together, they hide secrets to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible. A fan says, “It describes perfectly what depression feels like…her family fails time and time again to see the realities of what depression is like and constantly let their disappointment show when she can’t immediately ‘snap out of it.’ Definitely true to my experience.”

Essential Maps for the Lost

Author: Deb Caletti
Reading level: ages 14 and up
Issues discussed: depression, grief, suicide

During a morning swim, Madison discovers a body floating in Seattle’s Lake Union. She becomes obsessed with finding proof that this woman was a real person with connections to the world in an effort to distract herself from being the only hope for the survival of her mentally ill mother’s business. This novel treats depression for what it is: a sometimes-debilitating illness one can’t simply snap out of, because it’s neither a personality flaw nor a shortcoming. A fan describes this book as “absolutely heartbreaking and breathtaking and helps people who have never suffered with a mental illness to understand what it’s like.”

All reading levels provided by Scholastic.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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