Let’s face it: There are a lot of depictions of mental illness out there that feel super disingenuous. Like, you can tell when an author is including something as a one-off plot point instead of giving it the love and care it needs. But there are also some real gems, and we have faith in YA to keep it real. Our fave genre portrays mental health in incredible ways.
We rounded up a list of authors who we think get it right. Their books give us literally all the feels, and we can relate to their characters even if it might be painful to do so. They remind anyone struggling that they’re not alone, and we kind of love them a lot for it.
Authors Whose YA Books About Mental Illness Get It Right
1. Patrick Ness
There are a ton of Patrick Ness books lining our shelves, but in two of his most recent, he pulls off something pretty amazing. If you haven’t read THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE, he turns the entire Chosen One trope on its head. In a totally insane satire, we get a protagonist who is definitely not going to save the world. Mikey is an ordinary teen dealing with anxiety. He manages to put into words what it’s like to live feeling constantly on-edge, and we’re so thankful that such an incredible narrator is part of such a fun book!
Then, in RELEASE, Patrick tells an entire story in the span of a day. Adam Thorn deals with anxiety as well, but it’s on a much smaller scale. The world isn’t ending (well, that he knows of), and his main concerns are related to his homophobic parents, saying goodbye to an ex he may still love, and other facets of his day to day life.
- Learn more about THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE!
- Learn more about RELEASE!
- Oh, and here’s every single reason you should read RELEASE if you haven’t
2. Brandy Colbert
In her compelling and honest novel, LITTLE & LION, Brandy Colbert gently portrays a teen coming to terms with her brother’s bipolar disorder and with her own sexuality. As Suzette confronts her own past mistakes, she is forced to find a way to help her brother as his disorder spirals out of control. It also deals with racism and growing up and finding yourself. And this entire novel is so heartfelt, so emotional, you won’t want to put it down whether its making you smile, cry, or a little bit of both.
3. Francesca Zappia
There aren’t a lot of YA authors out there who have taken on schizophrenia as a topic. But Francesca did an incredible job researching and writing the emotional tale of a teen living with the disorder. In MADE YOU UP, Alex is an unreliable narrator who is armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude. She wages war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college, and we are rooting for her the whole way.
Things take a meta-turn in ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS, where Francesca tells the story of Eliza, the creator of one of the most popular webcomics on the net. Only, she writes it anonymously. She likes to slip by unnoticed in her real life. Her identities threaten to collide when Wallace starts at her school, since he’s a huge fan, and as she nears the end of her story, she feels the pressure that creativity can yield. It’s normal to feel anxiety about these kind of things, and we shouldn’t pretend like art is only a release.
4. Adam Silvera
When you read an Adam Silvera novel, you better be prepared to cry. And we don’t just mean one or two tears that happen to slip out as things draw to a close. We’re talking full-on ugly cry. That’s because one of the things Adam does so well is capture the little moments of his characters’ mental health and show how they affect their every day lives. He tackles grief and identity, loss and social anxiety, and even OCD in an understated, yet completely heartbreaking way. We just want to give all his characters hugs, really!!
In MORE HAPPY THAN NOT, Aaron may make you cry from the very first page. Set in the near-future where memory relief procedures are possible. It’s a story of self-discovery and love and loss, and is as hopeful as it is heartbreaking.
Want something dealing with grief, love, and loss, with a touch of OCD? HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME will wreck you. Honestly, the first page will probably do the trick. But seeing Griffin as he grows, reading along with him as he confronts his past, present, and future, it will definitely help any reader move on from a tough situation. We know it helped us.
And then for those of you who, like us sometimes, are kept from living our lives to the fullest because of anxiety or insecurity, THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END is a love letter to breaking free. Rufus and Mateo are nothing short of inspiring.
- Learn more about MORE HAPPY THAN NOT!
- Learn more about HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME!
- Learn more about THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END!
5. Rachel M. Wilson
Rachel M. Wilson also tackles OCD and anxiety in her powerful debut novel, DON’T TOUCH. Caddie can’t stop thinking that if she keeps from touching another person’s skin, her parents might get back together… which is why she covers every inch of her skin when she goes to school. It seems harmless at first but her obsession begins to threaten her ambitions. Wilson skillfully shows us the increasing anxiety that Caddie feels, but she also shows the value of a strong support network.
6. John Green
So, we all know that John Green is kind of a superstar when it comes to writing the teen experience, and TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN is no exception. It’s the story of 16-year-old Aza who is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student—and maybe even a good detective. But she’s also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts, and her struggles with anxiety take the compulsions introduced in some of these other books to new extremes. It’s not always easy to read, but it’s hard not to feel for and fall for Aza as she sruggles to live her life.
Everything is incredibly spot on, in part because John Green has spoken about dealing with these problems himself.
- Learn more about TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN!
- 144 Thoughts I Had While Reading TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN
7. Emery Lord
Emery Lord also nails it with her depiction of bipolar disorder in WHEN WE COLLIDED. We can totally relate to colliding with the right person at just the right time, and how it can change us forever. We can also totally relate to colliding with the right book at just the right time. And when we read this one, that was exactly what it was. This is an unflinching story about new love, old wounds, and forces beyond our control, and if Emery Lord wasn’t an auto-buy author for us before this book, she would have become one now.
8. Tamara Ireland Stone
If you’ve ever experienced OCD, or been curious about it, EVERY LAST WORD is a realistic and genuine story about what it’s like to live with it as a teenager. The unique thing about the book—and one we’re incredibly thankful for—is that the author shies away from the stereotypes of the disorder, instead focusing on the stream of dark thoughts and worries that the protagonist can’t turn off. That is, until she’s introduced to a group of misfits who help her begin to feel more comfortable in her skin.
We know that YA books about mental illness are a very personal and subjective topic, so we want to hear from you too! Which authors do you trust to tackle the tough topics? Let us know below!