I Feel Crazy
Mental illness can be hard to read about, but there are some great young adult books on the subject. This list comprises a few stellar reads with main characters who deal with mental illness, while embarking on their other adventures.
Winter, by Melissa Meyer
Winter is the final book in the Lunar Chronicles, four books that follow the adventures of cyborg Lihn Cinder. This book is something special, in that it focuses on a character previously introduced but not yet seen in full relief, Winter Hayle, princess of Luna. Winter is a young black girl who suffers from hallucinations, due to not using her Lunar gift. She makes the choice not to use her gift, for moral reasons, as it entails either enslaving others to her will or changing the perception of others to suit her whims. Winter, essentially her step-mother’s hostage, lives at court, and is only kept alive because the people love her and the queen fears that there would be unrest if Winter was killed. Queen Levana, Winter’s stepmother, is a force of extreme evil and Winter teams up with a group of revolutionaries to support her step-cousin Selene’s claim to the throne, while trying to prevent Levana from unleashing hell on earth.
Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
Aza Holmes deals with OCD on a daily basis, and she thinks it makes her a worse friend, daughter, and student. She does her best, but it’s difficult for her to listen to her best friend talk about her Chewbacca fanfiction when Aza is thinking about her microbiome, and how many of her cells are actually her, rather than germs. When a local billionaire disappears, Aza’s tangential connection to him catches her friend Daisy’s interest. There is a huge monetary reward, and both of them are curious as to what actually happened. As it turns out, the simplest solution is often the correct one, and things do not go quite as Aza thinks they will. Along the way, Aza tries to be a better version of herself, while still understanding the parts of her that will always be different.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Jacob Portman experiences an acute stress reaction (a kind of precursor to post-traumatic stress disorder) when he witnesses the murder of his grandfather by a monster. His grandfather’s cryptic last words do not help the situation, and Jacob experiences night terrors, seeing the monster in his dreams. Encouraged by his therapist, Jacob embarks with his father an a journey to banish the demons that everyone else believes are a delusion, but Jacob fears are all too real. Before long, he has found himself in a world that is far from the present day, and even farther from normal. On his journey, Jacob discovers a family he thought his grandfather never had, the true nature of his own peculiarity, and a bravery he thought he could never find in himself.
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
Cath is a freshman in college, and struggling with being away from home for the first time. Not only that, she’s dealing with being away from her twin sister Wren, who has declined to room together. Cath is devoted to her fanfiction writing, and has difficulty socializing with others at school, and she finds herself lonely and depressed. She even has panic attacks at the thought of eating in the dining hall. In addition, Cath’s father has bipolar disorder, and he relied heavily on Cath when she lived at home. He struggles without having her around, adding to Cath’s stress about school and her lack of a social life. Cath experiences setbacks, but she finds support from her roommate and a mentor in her writing professor, who help her to succeed in school and find happiness in her new life.
Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead
This is the first in the series of the same name, which is very popular for its romantic storylines and dramatic action sequences, though less well known for its depiction of mental illness. Lissa, the protagonist’s best friend, deals with depression following the death of her family, and even engages in self-harm. Rose, the main character, has a unique bond with Lissa, and is able to offer her friend relief from her darker thoughts. Rose and Lissa return to school a year after running away from a danger both fear to give a name. Forcibly returned to school, they must navigate the choppy waters of high school and the perilous machinations of those conspiring against them. Rose, suspicious of everyone and protective of her friend, fears that Lissa may be in even more danger, even at the supposedly safe boarding school. Lissa is still struggling with the deaths of her parents and brother, and survivor’s guilt, and turns her pain inward. The book and its sequels, as well as the spin-off Bloodlines series, depict depression, anxiety, and even abuse of drugs and alcohol, in a realistic light, while not glamorizing them.