Tuesday, 1 March 2016

TOP 10 YA BOOKS THAT RAISE MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS

As it turns out, diversity is an astonishingly diverse concept. We invoke it when raising racial issues. We invoke it when raising political issues. We invoke it when we really, really want to make a room full of movie industry bigleagues squirm in their seats at the Oscars.

And we sometimes, rarely, invoke it to discuss mental health issues. And when we do, we make it borderline incomprehensible and more than a little boring.

I would know. I'm a psychology major. There's nothing quite like a monotone regurgitation of textbooks and slides for three hours to take care of that pesky insomnia problem.

But mental health is a topic prevalent in more than textbooks, and which touches more than mental health professionals and textbook millionaires sellers. It affects everyone. And more often than not, those same mental health professionals and textbook millionaires sellers are at a loss as to how to approach and inform the younger generation on matters of mental health and mental disorders.

YA. That's how. (Trust us. We know things.)

So today, in honor of Self Injury Awareness Day, we are compiling a list of the ten YA books which have in many ways succeeded where many a textbook has failed. These are the fiction books which tackled the issues of "abnormal psychology" in such a way that it united us in a stance that "abnormal psychology" is a ridiculous term.




1. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

The protagonist, Alex, is a paranoid schizophrenic. But mostly, the protagonist Alex is an Alex. She works in a diner. She has switched schools. She likes a boy and photography, and she's interested in WWII. Occasionally, the Nazis are out to get her. But more often than not, she gets to live a life outside of her head. In this stunning debut, Francesca Zappia helps us blur the line between fiction and reality through the eyes of a diagnosed schizophrenic, while veering away from schizophrenia and into a high schooler's experience with love, family, grief, and a really, really bizarre high school. Far from evading her diagnosis, we see Alex struggle to balance out her delusions and reality daily. But in both the delusions and reality, there is so much more to be experienced. As for how much of it is real? Read it and find out.





2. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson is certainly no stranger to raising the issues of mental disorders in YA. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, a girl has to come to terms with her father's PTSD following a discharge from the army. In Speak, a rape victim retreats into her own mind and sinks into depression. And in Wintergirls, an anorexic high-schooler Lia has to come to terms with her friend's death of the same condition, and find her way out of the vicious chase for an unattainable goal before she, too, loses her life to it. Wintergirls is all kinds of beautiful, and masterfully written. 









3. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Possibly, Mara Dyer is psychotic. Her (psychologist) mother certainly likes to think so. Following an accident which killed her friends and left Mara the only survivor, PTSD was to be expected. But when Mara starts a new school and discovers that the people she wishes dead tend to end up dead in just the manner she wished, it becomes apparent that no crevice of her mind is a particularly safe place. Michelle Hodkin tackles trauma, psychosis, self-injury, stress and depression in this paranormal trilogy, and absolutely everything is up for debate.









4. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

If the title doesn't already suggest it and the movie didn't make it apparent, The Perks of Being A Wallflower pretty much encompasses the entire high school experience - the good, the bad, and the ugly. From social anxiety and trauma, to depression and derealization - this book has it covered. In a series of letters written to me personally an imaginary friend, the protagonist Charlie narrates his experience with making friends, overcoming anxiety, drugs, parties, romance, familial dynamics, and just about everything else. And despite the letter-format, the tension that Charlie feels is almost palpable at every pageturn.








5. All The Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin

Finch is bipolar and intent on suicide. Violet has PTSD following the loss of her sister, and is equally intent on suicide. On the surface, what Finch and Violet have in common is mostly... well, suicide. But underneath, as it turns out, there's a will to live, a need to reach out and relate, and... lots of natural wonders. (Trust me. You'll just have to read it.)












6. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Now, with Maggie Stiefvater's work it's never as straightforward as a diagnosis. Most of the hard facts aren't so much told as they are shown - and often between the lines. The Raven Cycle follows a group of four incredibly loving, incredibly dysfunctional boys who attend a private school in Virginia and in their spare time, they look for a dead Welsh king. It also tells the story of a girl who comes from a family of fortunetellers. In and of themselves, none of these scream 'mental health issues'. (Except for the dead Welsh king obsession. But that's really only the tip of the iceberg.) Beneath, however, each of the raven boys is haunted - by their pasts, by their families, by their legacy and a burden of expectation. And though they have yet to be diagnosed with anything - the issues that they grapple with are more than enough to get a serious mental health debate going. (And many have been, courtesy of Tumblr.)






7. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

In Challenger Deep, Neal Schusterman breaks a hundred different storytelling rules in favor of a disjointed narrative. And in Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman breaks a hundred different social stigmas by tackling schizophrenia without labels or very large boxes with very tiny post-its with diagnoses on top. Told through the eyes of a hospitalized Caden, half this book tackles his reality and half his delusions, and the many ways in which the former shapes the latter, and the latter the former. It's a rubik's cube of imagery and loveliness, and Caden's family is a shining example to all families yet coming to terms with their child's idiosyncrasies, and ways to bridge those gaps to loving and close-knit relationships.






8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Unlike most books featured on this list, Fangirl is of the lighthearted sort. And it's more than likely that at least one person will stop by to comment how Fangirl has nothing whatsoever to do with mental health. Because the protagonist, Cath, isn't psychotic. She doesn't suffer from hallucinations, nor is she suppressing past trauma. But Cath is anxious. Cath is a hundred different levels of socially anxious, and resolved (and content!) to spend her entire college experience - and the rest of her life - behind a nickname and an avatar on a fanfiction website. The real world holds no appeal to Cath compared to the fictional ones she loves and manipulates. And when her twin sister chooses to immerse herself in the proverbial "college experience", leaving Cath on her own in a new environment, Cath finds herself forced, for the very first time, to interact with the unknown. I'm arguing in favor of social anxiety. Fight me.





9. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Every summer, the Sinclair family retreats to their little private island and proceeds to... enjoy a life of privilege. Viciously argue. Form cliques. Make friends. And basically do what any large family would do when confined to the same place for the summer - minus the privilege. But at fifteen years of age, Cady is found in the ocean, nearly drowned. And when two years have passed with nothing but a failing health to show for it, Cady determines that it's time to head back to the island, meet her cousins and friends, and finally remember what happened the summer she nearly died. Because - yeah - Cady remembers nothing about that fateful night. And she can get no one in the family to mention it. It's mystery and family and all manner of social issues on top of mental health ones. But underneath, Cady's damaged psyche is at stake - and only Cady's damaged psyche can discern the truth.





10*. BONUS PICK - Vicious by V.E. Schwab

I mean, for the most part Vicious is about superhero-enthusiasts-turned-supervillains with vendettas. Never in the book is there mention of diagnoses or mental health. But in every action, and especially in the underlying dynamics between Victor and Eli, the two protagonists, it becomes more than apparent that both are ripe for psychological testing.











What are some of your favorite YA books that tackle mental health issues? Have you read any on our list? We find mental-health-oriented YA to be an amazing read 99% of the time - and we'd dearly love some recommendations.

8 comments:

  1. All really great picks <3 <3 And books on mental health are so important. It makes dealing with mental illness so much easier when you've got amazing things like It's Kind of a Funny Story out there (one of my fave books, by the way). Awesome list.

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    1. I've been stealing myself to read It's Kind of A Funny Story for what feels like ages at this point! But comments like these make it abundantly clear that I need to.

      There's a whole list of ADULT titles I'd have loved to feature, too - Prozac Nation, Unbearable Lightness, Still Alice, even The Shining. But where adults are getting SOME (inadequate, but SOME) information and support when it comes to these issues, I feel like the young adults are woefully 'underrepresented'. I was a psych student who genuinely felt like I had no one to turn to when life got difficult. There's something profoundly wrong with that.

      So a YA list it was! Because - like you said - it makes it so much easier when books like these are out there, within our reach. And I couldn't be happier you loved the picks. <3

      - Lexie

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  2. DUDE YES TO ALL OF THESE. But omg you haaaave to tell me what you'd diagnose the Raven Boys as. I'm going to say anxiety for Ronan particularly. And Noah's dead, so that's a problem. Ahem. Adam DEFINITELY has PTSD. I feel like Gansey...I don't even know?! Like there's still so many questions about his backstory. I wanna know why he was in England with Mallory and why his parents let him and how he's so awesome and only SEVENTEEN AND HERE I AM ANCIENT AND INEPT. DANGIT, LITERATURE, FOR MAKING ME LOOK SO UNPRODUCTIVE. AHEM.
    So what were we saying? oh yesssss.
    I do love it when books tackle mental illness and a) portray it right and b) don't "cure it". I think one of the most important things to know about mental illness is that you're not going to ever be totally fixed/normal? Sometimes I read books that miss the point of that and it makes me sad. I like how Fangirl dealt with introversion and social anxiety but didn't end up with Cath having a zillion friends and an out going life. It just kind of gave her a few more friends that she really needed and built her up. <3 I love Cath. I CONNECT TO CATH. (Except I don't write fanfic...but there's still time, I suppose.)
    VICIOUS. <333

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    1. I feel like I should write a post about my amateur Raven Boys' diagnoses, but, honestly, NOBODY WOULD CARE ABOUT THAT EXCEPT THE TWO OF US. So I might take it over to Tumblr instead and take a stab at it. But basically - I 100% AGREE WITH YOU, AND I HAVE LIKE 6 MORE TO ADD, BECAUSE UNI HAS BURROWED INTO MY BRAIN AND IT'S GNAWING AWAY THE GOOD PARTS AND LEAVING DIAGNOSES IN THEIR WAKE. (And, gosh, Gansey puts EVERYONE TO SHAME and basically makes me question my life every single day.)

      YES, YES, AND YES! YA has this thing about 'curing' social anxiety and introversion in a major way, and... that sends WHAT kind of a message to the introverts and people with anxiety? (I was pretty disappointed with Soundless for marketing itself as 'diverse' for featuring deaf characters, but then magically curing them of their deafness. UM, WHAT? So, basically, The Dead Boy And The Paper Cut is the best thing ever in that department.) It's very important to me that a character with a mental illness (a) not be DEFINED ONLY BY IT, and (b) not be MAGICALLY CURED OF IT. If those two are covered - the book and I are gonna be very, very good friends.

      - Lexie

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  3. SO MANY GREAT BOOKS (and so many more I need to read)! Thanks for the great list. I love books that touch on mental illness, because it is so interesting to learn about (but much less so in a textbook).

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    1. I KNOW, RIGHT? I consulted Google for a recommendation of the most impactful/influential YA books featuring mental health issues, and I READ SO FEW! Thankfully we've finally gotten to that place where more are written than we can manage to read. Thankfully.

      Thank you very much for stopping by Aubrey.

      - Lexie

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  4. FABULOUS picks! I know I am late to this post, but WOW, this is such a great post! I am quite passionate about this issue as well, and Challenger Deep and Made You Up are absolute go-tos for me. And All the Bright Places is a solid choice too. A few others that have made a big impact are Don't Touch by Rachel M. Wilson- I have never felt so overwhelmed by a character having the EXACT same thoughts as me before.

    I think books, especially YA books, have the ability to be game changers, and well, shatter stigmas (I did an event last year called Shattering Stigmas- and plan to do it again this year- so since you are passionate about this too, I will hit you up in a couple months to see if you're interested in participating!) because people with mental health issues can feel SO isolated, and sometimes even ashamed. Books are such a good medium to use to help people feel like they aren't alone. LOVE this post so much!

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  5. Great post, how about 'My Mad Fat Diary'? (Haven't actually read it... but loved the series!)

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