Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

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Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

The ability of young adult literature to address issues of identity in an open-handed and egalitarian way can't really be underestimated. Part of the appeal of young adult books is the opportunity they provide authors in allowing them to create characters to be earnest which sparks true, often pure, feeling in the reader. When characters are included who experience mental illness, a vehicle is provided for people to accompany someone on a journey to a conclusion - open-ended or not, happy or sad. For people who have ongoing struggles, these types of small endings can become a much needed sense of relief. Some great books that deal with mental illness are listed below:

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
It’s Kind of a Funny Story starts off with a narrator who acknowledges his own breaking point in the face of crippling anxiety. The reader goes with him as he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital and encounters others who give him hope as he rediscovers the inner tools he has that help him to be himself.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak delves deeply into the theme of sexual trauma and exposes the lasting impact a painful experience can have on a persons’ behavior. The reader watches and infers details about the life of the main character while rooting for her to once again find her voice.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Socially awkward Charlie is trying to figure out a way to manage high school. He finds himself a watcher more than a participant and his struggles as well as the struggles of his friends speak to the need for connection and support as an individual delves into the heart of what it means to be alive.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
Aysel is both physics and suicide obsessed. As she thinks of ways to convert her “potential energy” into nothingness, she finds a partner with similar goals. As their communication builds bonds, her surety starts to falter. A great look at the way we find people at our most raw who are the ones we need and the ones for whom we want to stick around.

Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford
As can be expected from such a bleak title, Suicide Notes is not the lightest of reads. It does however encourage a modicum of humor as it tackles some dark material. The book follows a sarcastic Jeff as he narrates and eventually reveals what is at the center of his despair, both to the reader and to himself. Covering mental health issues and their overlap with LGBTQ content, this book offers an affecting look at a subject that could always use more empathy.