Young Adult Books That Tackle Mental Health & Changed Me

Friday, June 12, 2020

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been riddled with anxiety. It may not be the large thing I carry around with me now, but it has always been there. It was there when I was younger, hanging in the shadows; it was there when I forced a smile because I’d never felt so alone before. My mum often describes me now as an ‘anxious child’, and I’d have to agree with her. 

Image of an open book. There is a coffee cup in the background next to a vase. In the left of the image, there is a stack of books

I read more as a child than I made friends. In turn, because of that, I did eventually gain friends because of books. But, the more I read, the more alone I felt; none of the characters in the books was like me, some of Jacqueline Wilson’s books came close, but never quite hit the nail on the head. None seemed to struggle with who they were, or found themselves nervous in the long corridors of secondary school. If anything, most of the characters—in the books I read—had confidence I couldn’t even muster to fake. 

If I’m honest now, I pretended a lot when I was younger, because I was scared to admit I was drowning. I wanted to be the characters in the book, whether they were fantasy or contemporary. None of the characters struggled with worries they didn’t understand. They slew dragons, took on adults with their sheer determination and wit; they even went to a magical school and did the impossible. 

It took years for me to know, to realise what I needed to do. 

It took even longer to actually do what I needed to do because I also think I’d built it up so much in my head I feared I’d made it all up. I’d convinced myself it was normal to feel anxious because I always had; it was normal to not want to get out of bed on a Saturday and rewatch The Mummy for the billionth time. It also felt normal to burst into tears at the first sign of criticism, and I barely thought anything when I thought back to when a teacher said I was ‘often emotional’ to my Mum. 

None of that resurfaced and hit me like an oncoming train until I was in my mid-twenties. Even then, I’ve struggled for years since, but at least not alone. 

To this day opening up to a medical professional has been the scariest and hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I do not regret it for a second. Finally getting diagnosed at the end of 2018 was a weight lifted off of my shoulders I couldn’t even describe. Then, the best part came. 

Without the draining of pretending, I had the chance to finally discover who I was. I had the energy to speak up, to share my story and my feelings; I had an urge to read books for fun again and find that a lot has changed since I was reading under the quilt with a torch. (Yes, I did actually do that.) 

Reading my first fiction book about mental health knocked me for six. I felt drained, in a good way, because it’s all I ever wanted. I have since learnt that it's normal to feel that way; it’s also normal to learn something about yourself as you read them. 

When I handed the book to a friend, I felt nervous because it was the first time I’d really let myself create an open discussion with what I was going through, after keeping it to myself for so long. 

Thankfully, she read it and hugged me afterwards because truthfully it can be really hard to get someone else to understand. They don’t walk around in your shoes. They can’t even imagine how difficult it must be—and so, they don’t, even the ones who really try too. Fiction, though, allows us to be in someone else’s head for a while, and can open up possibilities we didn’t think were possible, especially if your imagination is wild like mine. It can lead you down a conversational-path that means you find a common ground with the person you’re talking to like it did with my mum. 

Because fiction, like it has the ability to create an entire world, can also unlock a door for someone your words simply can’t. It can describe something to them you didn’t even have the words for. 

It’s also worth remembering, sometimes when the love and care they feel for you can actually be a hindrance. They don’t want to accept your words because they don’t ever want to think of you suffering. But, the character in a book is removed from all of that, they don’t know them. They don’t owe them anything. It allows the walls to come down. 

It’s why I think books on mental health fictional stories are more important than ever. I’m so happy there are more teens and young adults stories coming out because, for me, that’s when my anxiety first started growing. It’s also important to have books catering for adults, as they can be like me and bury their head in the sand (which again, my therapist tells me is super normal). 

So, because of that, today I wanted to write this post to highlight some of my favourite books that deal with mental health I’ve read in the last few years. The books that handle the nitty-gritty, the things that have hit me like a ton of bricks—and yes, alright they made me cry. This isn’t an extensive list, there are likely others. 

Of course, it’s important to note that the books and their mental health disorders aren’t the be-all and end-all. There are levels to each. For example, my depression stems from out of control anxiety, it’s different from someone suffering from pure-depression. 
I want to highlight this because if you, like some of my friends, pick up one of these books to help better understand someone you love in your life, I don’t want you to misinterpret the fiction from the reality. I don’t want you to think you know everything because you can’t and you won’t. Like the books, I’m going to suggest, each person's story—and their future path—are different. 

It’s also important to note, for us no two days are ever the same. It’s a path we don’t know the ending of, or where it’ll take us. For example, I never envisioned myself writing a blog post talking about my anxiety and journey with mental health, but here I am. 

Now, I promise I’m done with the warnings. So, here are a select few books that really stuck out to me. I hope they speak to you, just as they spoke to me. 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Adult Fiction, Contemporary 
Theme: PTSD 

This is a brilliant book showing the breakdown of a thirtyish-year-old woman who has repressed parts of herself. The heartbreak comes from nowhere and slams into you like a car. But more importantly, you think Eleanor’s life is one thing, and when you find out what it really is, you feel stunned into silence. I love the portrayal of mental health in this book, even if it did make me cry. 

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Young Adult, Contemporary 
Themes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Samantha ‘Sam’ McAllister has purely-obsessional OCD and whilst she knows this, accepts this, she doesn’t let anyone else know including her best friends. It’s only her family that knows, and when a new girl makes friends with her at the locker—a friend unlike any of her other ones—Sam in turns opens herself up, sharing a bit more of herself than she really ever has and it's so beautiful to read. It will also rip your heart out, but I’m a glutton for punishment. 

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Young Adult, Contemporary 
Themes: Bipolar II disorder

This book touches on a lot. The main character is black and Jewish and comes to terms with herself being bisexual, whilst navigating her brothers bipolar II disorder. The reason I loved this book though is how honest it is and how pro-medication it is. As someone who relies on their own medication to get them through the day, I loved this about the book. I also really loved how we get to see the emotional toll it takes on Suzette, and for that reason, can be emotional and, as you guessed it, tug at your heartstrings. 

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

Young Adult, Contemporary 
Themes: Depression (maybe) and an eating disorder

Similarly to the previous book, this story touches on the impact on loved ones someone struggles can have. Tori Springs' brother has an eating disorder, but it also seems she has a lot of feelings herself, including a low mood. Alice Oseman really has a way with words, getting you to feel so much whilst staying in Tori’s shoes the entire time. 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Young Adult, Contemporary
Themes: Anxiety

A good friend recommended this book to me, fully explaining this book deals with anxiety and within the first chapters I had to stop because the main character is me. Because of that, because of the way John Green is able to express how I feel with words I didn’t know, I’m currently pausing reading this. So, I feel it’s enough said for this one, but it’s beautifully written what I’ve read so far. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Adult/Young Adult, Contemporary 
Theme: Asperger's Syndrome or high-functioning autism

I read this when I was at college, and this book still always comes to my mind when I think of the first book I read that made me think of mental health. It’s heavy and also poignant at the same time. It made me feel things and changed my outlook on the world a little bit, which all in all makes for a good book in my opinion. There, though, have been some criticism of this book, and in later years I learned that Mark Haddon hadn’t done the research for this book. To some, it may feel odd to mention this book because of that reason, but it caused a dent in me I’ve never forgotten. 
Image of a woman in a brown dress sitting on the floor. She is screaming and holding her head, upset and angry. The image depicts mental health.
Thanks to Priscilla Du Preez for sharing their work on Unsplash.
There you go, six books on different themes, that I hope you find helpful. I’ve tried to find different themes the books handle, but it’s hard to not lean towards books that deal with the life you live. If you have any other recommendations, please don’t hesitate to get in touch or if you just want to chat, I’m always here. 

This guest post was written by the amazing Josie Moone! Josie is a book, mental health and lifestyle blogger. You can read more of her work or find her on social media using the links below! 

Instagram: @pagesofthemoone 
Twitter: @josieleawriter 

*This post contains affiliation links. It means that when you click on a link, I will get a commission off of a purchase you make. It will not cost you anything extra, but will help me run my blog!

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  1. I loved the portrayal of mental health in Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Turtles All the Way Down too - both books are so realistic and relatable.

    Serena /

  2. I’m going to have to read those last 2 for sure.

    Any book on aspergers/autism will get hammered with criticism, with some if you don’t detail exactly how they are, they get angry, call
    It fake, wrong etc From what I’ve read, some say it’s a good portrayal, some say it’s not. Which is par for the course. I’m interested to read it for myself.

  3. This is a great list, I haven't read any yet! I have always heard Turtles All the Way Down was a great read so I'll have to check it out!

  4. These are some really great recommendations. There is a couple that caught my eye so I'm going to add them to my TBR list.

  5. Love this list - added them all to my to-read list. Already read Curious Incident and loved it!

  6. i remember reading one ages ago that covered mental health - zeldah green i believe? no idea how it holds up today but thought i'd give it a mention in case its worth checking out

  7. Wow thanks so much for the inspiration.
    Lovely collection. i would love to read
    the one about the turtles..

  8. Thank you for sharing your own journey with mental health is the post as well as recommending some great books. I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nigh-Time a few years ago and loved every moment of it. I'm going to add Turtles All the Way Down to my reading list.

  9. I've wanted to read Eleanor Oliphant for the longest time! I've also heard that Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb addresses mental health really well (also on my reading list lol) :)

  10. I've got quite a few of these on my list waiting for me to read them. Great post - it can be so hard to articulate how you are feeling or find a way to put it into words, but you did it so well here. I'm glad you founded what you needed to be able to help.

    Lindsey |

  11. I just read Eleanor Oliphant this summer and thought it was a great book! The others I've not read (yet). :)

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