While representation in books and media about mental health is important, realistic and accurate representation is even more vital. It’s especially common in young adult novels to romanticize mental illness, which can cause both misinformation and contribute to the stigmas that currently surround the issue. Although I am not an expert on mental illness, these were all books that I found to be incredibly moving. Below are some novels that I’ve either read or had recommended to me, that present mental health and mental illnesses in a more honest light.
- It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini – The novel centers around an ambitious teen, Craig, who after getting accepted into a prestigious school, struggles with maintaining his plans for the future while the pressure to be perfect slowly takes its toll on him. After an especially rough night, he admits himself into a mental hospital where he learns to better understand himself and his mental illnesses. The book was one of the very first books I had read about that spoke about mental illnesses, particularly depression and anxiety. It resonated with me in the honest way that it portrays depression and anxiety. The novel was able to balance a light, hopeful tone without undermining the severity of mental illness.
- Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman– This novel initially presents a dual narrative from the perspective of Caden, a teenager who seemingly lives in two worlds: the modern world where he leads an ordinary life as a high school student, and a separate world where he’s living on a ship headed for the deepest part of the Marianas Trench. However, the lines between these two realities begin to blur as he grows increasingly disconnected with his life in the modern world. Interestingly, the novel flows between first and second perspective in the same way Caden flows (or stumbles) between both realities. At first, the constant switching between worlds can seem jarring and disjointed, but it works well at playing on the reader’s emotions. Overall, the novel presents mental illness in an incredibly raw way, offering a very unfiltered glimpse into Caden’s mind through the scattered storytelling. However, this was definitely a heavier read, thick with emotions that seem to seep through the pages.
- Show Me All Your Scars (A story collection) edited by Lee Gutkind– This nonfiction collection of stories offers insight into the lives of people living with mental illness. Ranging from OCD to depression to bipolar disorder, the stories vividly address the challenges of people living with these conditions. The experiences differ widely between the stories; and yet, they all share a commonality of giving vulnerability and emotion to issues that have long been stigmatized. Although I haven’t read the entire collection myself, and as such, I can’t give a more detailed review, I did find the stories to be insightful and moving. Given the subject matter though, I do not recommend reading all the accounts in one sitting.
Kennedy, Patrick J., et al., editors. Show Me All Your Scars: True Stories of Living with Mental Illness. In Fact Books, 2016.
Shusterman, Neal, and Brendan Shusterman. Challenger Deep. Walker Books, 2020.
Vizzini, Ned, and Rachel Cohn. Its Kind of a Funny Story. Hyperion, 2015.