October 10, marked as World Mental Health Day, we aim to raise awareness about mental health issues – a conversation that sadly is always on tiptoe as there is a veil of stigma around it. However, young adult books have recently done an exceptionally valuable job in incorporating mental health issues into their stories. Here is a list of books that represent various aspects of mental health issues and how people treat them.
Phoebe not fired
Amalie Jahn (Bermlord, 2021)
This novel explores the life of Phoebe, a 16-year-old teenage girl who developed germophobia during the pandemic. Her brother’s premature birth left her with underdeveloped lungs and in order to protect him, she devoted herself to pathogen avoidance, refusing to touch potential sources of contamination, ultimately leading to a life of isolation. As she makes her way through high school, Phoebe tries to find a way to deal with her anxiety, discovering the struggles that exist underneath.
Darius the Great disagrees
Adib Khorram (Penguin Young Readers Group, 2019)
Adib Khorram’s debut novel explores the life of Darius Kellner, a teenage boy with depression, while facing an identity crisis and the politics of immigration and belonging. Iranian on his mother’s side and American on his father’s side, Darius never quite integrates into his surroundings. When he suddenly travels to Iran to meet his ailing grandfather, the differences between his two cultures become more evident. But things seem to improve when he meets Sohrab, a friend who helps him overcome his inner struggles. Through a deep story of camaraderie, the author manages to unpack several important themes, while also presenting a resonant character.
Turtles all the way down
John Green (Dutton Books, 2017)
John Green, in his most recent work of fiction, portrays the life of Aza Holmes, a teenager with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorder, on the hunt for a runaway billionaire. The story revolves around how mental health affects a person’s daily life and relationships. Inside Aza you see a longing for better days and a silent cry for help. The book leaves behind spirals of unrolled mystery and urges readers to think about love, life, and all things in between, from a more compassionate perspective.
Highly illogical behavior
John Corey Whaley (Dial Books, 2016)
John Corey Whaley’s book presents the story of Solomon, a teenager with agoraphobia, anxiety and panic disorder. Lisa, an ambitious young girl, is determined to bring him back to “normalcy” and use that experience in her scholarship application writing. When she, along with her boyfriend, begins this mission, things get complicated as the value of relationships is called into question. In the midst of a chaotic mess, the author paints a story of friendship, duplicity and coming of age.
All the bright places
Jennifer Niven (Knopf Publishing Group, 2015)
Niven’s book highlights the stories of Violet Markey, who battles the survivor’s guilt after her older sister dies in a car crash, and Theodre Finch, who experiences suicidal urges and disappears for random periods of time. . Over the course of the book, Violet learns to rediscover herself by coming to terms with her loss, as Finch eventually begins to struggle with bipolar disorder. At its core, the book is a brilliant representation of grief and the underlying complicity of human emotions.
Read our opinion on Maybe you should talk to someone: a therapist, their therapist and our lives revealed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) here. Watch our Star Books episode on Reading in Mental Health here.
Maisha Islam Monamee is a medical student who enjoys reading, doodling, and blogging. Follow @monameereads on Instagram.