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Mental Health in YA: a reading list

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As mental health advocacy is something near and dear to my heart, I thought I'd put together a list of YA books from the last ten years that address mental illness as a main focus and/or influence. It's something I've been meaning to do since I wrote this post (and got some great suggestions in the comments). The result is certainly not an exhaustive list by any means, but it's a start. I've read a good number of books on the list, but not all of them (a few are forthcoming), so there may be errors or things I've overlooked. Please feel free to correct me. I've also tried to organize them by category. While many of the books could belong in multiple categories, I've grouped each title into just one.

Looking at the list now, it's interesting to see what's not represented. For instance, there are a number of books about OCD, but far fewer about generalized anxiety disorder or social phobia. I'm not sure if that's an indicator of what books are on my radar, or if somehow these diagnoses don't get addressed in the same way. I also think it's interesting that all the books about bipolar disorder are focused on females (either teens or mothers). But again, I'm sure there are others books out there that I am just not aware of.

Feel free to add more recs in the comments!

edit 6/8/2014: I've updated the list with recs from the comments that fit the original criteria (YA, published less than 10 years ago, and belongs in one of the original categories). I hope to do a list addressing other mental health issues in the future. Thank you all for the wonderful suggestions. It is much appreciated. -sk

Depression and Suicide

The Death of Jayson Porter by Jaime Adoff
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard
This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford
Hold Still by Nina Lacour
Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones
Cracked by K.M. Walton
By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters
Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The Namesake by Steven Parlato
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
The Program by Suzanne Young

Anxiety Disorders

Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo
OCD, The Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn
A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie by Matt Blackstone
Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe
OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
Don't Touch by Rachel M. Wilson
The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti
Say What You Will by Cammi McGovern
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
I Don't Want to be Crazy by Samantha Schutz
Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Total Constant Order by Crissa-Jean Chappell
Not As Crazy As I Seem by George Harrar

The Avery Shaw Experiment by Kelly Oram

Eating Disorders

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger
Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
Nothing by Robin Friedman
Skin by Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Never Enough by Denise Jaden
Tides by Betsy Cornwall

Bipolar Disorder

Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton
This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky
Crazy by Amy Reed
The Phoenix Dance by Dia Calhoun
The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder

Thought Disorders

The Chance You Won't Return by Annie Cardi
Before My Eyes by Caroline Bock
17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma
Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett
Where the Moon Isn't by Nathan Filer
Schizo by Nic Sheff
A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler
Life is But a Dream by Brian James
Crazy by Han Nolan
Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

PTSD/complex PTSD

Echo by Kate Morgenroth
I Will Save You by Matt de la Pena
Bruised by Sarah Skilton
Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
Scowler by Daniel Kraus
Boy21 by Matthew Quick
The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Never Ending by Martyn Bedford

Impulse Control/Self Harm

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Break by Hannah Moskowitz
Willow by Julie Hoban
Reality Boy by A.S. King
Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omolulu
Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan
Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Shadows on the Moon by
My Beating Teenage Heart by C.K. Kelly Martin
Boy on the Edge by Fridrik Erlings

Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie is the William C. Morris award-winning author of Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and The Smaller Evil.

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  1. Also, a new book about Bipolar Disorder (I have not finished reading it)
    THE MUSEUM OF INTANGIBLE THINGS by Wendy Wunder. Still girl focused.


    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I will have to check it out.

  2. Thanks for compiling this list! I'm a social worker and I appreciate you bringing this awareness.

    1. Oh, you are so welcome. I hope it is useful. Thank you.

  3. fantastic list! love that you present by category!!

  4. Love this! This is actually the post I'm working on for B&N right now, and I think every single one I chose is on here, so, nothing new to recommend!

    1. Thank you, Dahlia! I look forward to your post!

  5. This is great- I'm bookmarking for future reference! It's so helpful that you list the books by category. I'd be interested in books about social phobia too so hopefully a visiting author will take that on!

    1. Thank you! And yes, I'd be interested in reading about social phobia, too.

  6. Thanks for this list. I feel armed to help my teens.

    1. You're so welcome. I hope the list is helpful. :)

  7. This is a really good list! I get questions about tough topic books a lot and this is a great help. I'd recommend The Avery Shaw Experiment by Kelly Oram, which deals with social anxiety/panic attacks. I'd also recommend The Program by Suzanne Young for the suicide/depression list. Thanks!

    1. Thank you! And thank you for the recommendations. I need to check them out! I appreciate it.

  8. Great list. I'd add Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan too. It has one of the most emotionally moving scenes about suicide I've ever read.

  9. Terrific list! Thanks for taking the time to collect & share all these great books. :)

  10. Wonderful list, thoughtfully compiled. Thank you.

    Another title in the Eating Disorders category: MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW by Marnelle Tokio.

    I wonder if you'd be willing to incorporate the suggestions from the comments into their categories in the list. That would be helpful when referring folks to the list.

    1. Thank you, Jet. Yes, I'll update the list with the comment recs.

  11. I love this list so darn much. Thank you for making it - I'm so grateful that people are taking the time to raise awareness about mental health. Also, would love to add to this REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly, a book that forever changed the way I thought about depression.

    1. Thank you, Samantha, and thank you for the rec!

  12. Oh, and another. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. I'm not sure if you are including autism with mental health awareness. Folks on the spectrum are not neuro-typical and face their own challenges.

  13. Many thanks for this. I have six of them, with my favorite being Wild Awake, and yet I hadn't heard of many of these, so now I got a lot more to check out.

    1. You are so welcome. I'm glad to know you've read and enjoyed some of the titles.

  14. Thank you so, so much for this list. I'm linking to it everywhere I can--this is so important. I deal with depression and anxiety myself, and seeing that represented well, especially in YA, is incredibly important to me personally.

    Also, I haven't read it in years, but I remember NOT AS CRAZY AS I SEEM as a good book about a guy with OCD.

  15. Scanned my shelves and found one you might add for self-harm: Cut, by Patricia McCormick.

  16. What an interesting list! I was curious though--have you read "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson? I would consider it a book about sexual assault trauma related PTSD.

    1. Thank you! I have read Speak. It's a wonderful book, although for the purposes of this list, it's older than criteria I'd set (pubbed less than 10 yrs). But it's definitely a classic! I do think it would be interesting to look at a timeline of books about mental health issues to see what from the past is influencing literature today. That might have to be a future project!

  17. Under Anxiety Disorders you forgot Every last word

  18. For bipolar disorder I recommend All The Bright Places...I also recommend it for suicide.


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Item Reviewed: Mental Health in YA: a reading list Rating: 5 Reviewed By: stephanie kuehn