The following book recommendations are taken from the webinar, Mental Health Representation in Young Adult Literature, presented on March 8, 2017 by Amanda MacGregor, Jaina Shaw, Dr. Frank Fortunati, and Author Karen Fortunati. To watch or learn more about our collaborators, please visit: http://ibpf.org/article/mental-health-representation-young-adult-literature
- Main character in both books has bipolar disorder
- shows many perspectives of mental illness both treated and untreated
- Hopeful and realistic path forward
- Accurate representations of treatment- medication and therapy
The Rest of us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
- Main character has OCD and anxiety
- Outstanding job showing the good that therapy and medication can do
Underwater by Marisa Reichardt
- Main Character suffers from agoraphobia
- Highlights the power of a support network
- Main character has tremendous partnership with her clinician
Hold Still by Nina LaCour
- Main character struggles in aftermath of best friends suicide
- Shows teens the emotional hole suicide leaves in friends and family
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
- Main character is genderfluid
- recently attempted suicide, anxiety and panic
- important details about medication dose changes and coping exercises
Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
- New York Times Best seller
- Main charcter self harms
- Graphic, painful portrayal of cutting
- Stunning writing-poetic, raw and profound
- Ultimately story of hope
The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
- Real talk about mental illness- what depression feels like
- Understanding that mental illness is an illness and that it is real
- Superb focus on recovery
When we talk about Young Adult literature (“YA lit”), we’re talking about books written for teenagers (ages 12-18) that encompass all genres. YA lit is about the teenage experience, starring teen protagonists, with stories that speak to teenagers and their realities.
YA books cover broad and diverse topics including sexuality, gender, dating violence, rape, ethnicity, racism, etc. An increasing number of YA books address an equally broad range of mental health issues: depression, suicide, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, addiction, cutting, etc.
YA books cover every topic imaginable. There is no one universal teen experience and authors are working harder than ever to present new, innovative stories featuring a diversity of characters. When it comes to books on mental health, we are finally seeing characters who have a wide variety of mental health issues, seeing various treatment approaches (and successes and failures) and not getting the very one-note story of mental health = depression = suicide anymore.
One of the best trends we’ve been seeing in YA lit is writing characters that aren’t defined by their “other”-ness. For example, fifteen years ago, if a book had a gay character, it was likely the entire story was about said character struggling with “coming out,” but now we see more nuanced approaches, where being gay isn’t defined as a crisis. However, mental illness in YA lit really needs to catch up. Obviously, it’s very important to highlight the crisis-nature of this issue, since so many mental illnesses start during adolescence. But, we’re hoping in the next decade, we’ll have more stories about characters that are living their story while managing their illness.
Author and former librarian Amanda MacGregor is heavily involved in the world of young adult literature through her work at the website, Teen Librarian Toolbox, that is a School Library Journal-networked blog. Their mission is to help libraries serving teens (and anyone who cares about teens) and to foster a community of professional development and resource sharing by providing quality information, discussions, book reviews and more. Each year, a project is chosen and last year’s was Mental Health in Young Adult Literature. The goal was to help the YA community engage in a wider conversation about mental health to help remove shame, silence, and stigma and show teens that they are not alone. In books, the characters are getting help. They are seeing what their options are. The real humans, we’re surviving our illnesses. We’re getting help. We’re opening up about our lives. We’re living with mental illness and here to say, there is hope, you can live with this, you can talk about it, you can ask for help, you can treat this. There have been over 100 guest posts from authors, bloggers, librarians, and other teen advocates. Most of them were writers sharing their own personal experiences. Information about that project can be found under the “projects” tab on teenlibrariantoolbox.com or by searching the hashtag #MHYALit on the blog.
Because so much of mental health is still surrounded by silence, shame, and stigma, YA stories that focus on authentic representations of mental health illness and positive portrayals of treatment are critical. These books foster dialogue, decrease stigma, educate about mental illness and illustrate that help exists. These stories may be only place that teens see themselves.
We need to see stories that don’t romanticize mental illness. If you’re a teen struggling with mental health problems, you need to know that you are not alone. That others share your struggle. That there is help. That there is hope. You need to know your options for treatment. You need to see success stories. If you’re a parent, you need to see how you could help your child or what signs to be looking for. A book can help start a conversation you’ve been unable to have. If you’re an educator, you need to fully understand how prevalent mental illness is and what you can do to help your students. If you’re a teen who has a friend, sibling or parent who suffers, you need to see that this is common. These stories are also vitally important to kids who don’t live with mental illness. They can see experiences beyond their own—maybe experiences they’ve never thought about. One beautiful response from a teen was, “I like it when books teach me how to treat someone.” These stories can create compassion and understanding. They can help develop empathy. Maybe these stories will help us rethink our word choices. Maybe we’ll stop saying someone is crazy when we mean ridiculous, or bipolar when we mean moody, or OCD when we mean organized.