The best fiction books with characters experiencing depression that won't leave you feeling down

Kris Jamison Author Of Love/Rock/Compost
By Kris Jamison

The Books I Picked & Why

Taproot: The Gardener and A Ghost

By Keezy Young

Book cover of Taproot: The Gardener and A Ghost

Why this book?

I love this graphic novel, with its muted, earthy colours. Hamal, the gardener, can see ghosts. At the time the story starts he seems to have found his feet, but he talks about his depression as a teen, which is one of the reasons why I think it can be included here; that sort of thing is never entirely left behind. Another is the emotions of the ghosts he encounters and tries to help; a lot of what the ghosts are experiencing, even apparently-cheerful Blue, who is in love with Hamal, can be read as akin to the lost greyness of various degrees of depression. It's a gentle, thoughtful story, well-told with lots of humour, and it has lovely art. 

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The Witness for the Dead

By Katherine Addison

Book cover of The Witness for the Dead

Why this book?

I reread The Witness for the Dead at least three times in the first months after I got my hands on it and have bought it in both physical form and ebook. This is a great secondary world fantasy and murder mystery. It’s on this list because of the portrayal of Thara Celehar as a man struggling with depression, haunted by past trauma and the bleakness he expects of his future while carrying on doing his duty by those who depend on him, combined with his unfailing mixture of wisdom and kindness and his awkwardness in accepting kindness and friendship in return, is so beautifully done. I can tell that this is going to remain one of my comfort reads forever.

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The Blue Castle

By L.M. Montgomery

Book cover of The Blue Castle

Why this book?

The Blue Castle is my favourite Montgomery book. The heroine, Valancy Stirling, is not depicted as suffering depression per se, and yet something in it resonates. Her life is grey, dreary, and sad, until she rebels against her oppressive family and the daily belittling, nagging, and inducement of guilt she endures, and breaks free. The book is pure escapist romance, and Montgomery, who suffered from depression and dealt throughout her married life with her husband's extremely severe depression, seems to have written it as consolation to get herself through a particularly bad time. It’s a story of friendship growing into romantic love, which is always satisfying to read, and a celebration of the comfort and healing powers of the natural world. 

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Darius the Great Is Not Okay

By Adib Khorram

Book cover of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Why this book?

This YA novel is the only one on my list that's officially about depression. Darius Kellner, like his father, suffers from depression and is taking medication for it. The story itself is about a family trip back to Iran to visit his mother's parents, during which Darius embarks on a new friendship, feeling like he's expanding into himself for the first time. It's what you might expect from a good teen story about families, conflicting cultural expectations, and complicated friendships, but the matter-of-fact inclusion of Darius's day-to-day navigation of his mental health, and his observations of his father’s struggles with depression as well, sets this apart. This would be a good read for teens dealing with similar issues, but it’s a satisfying story for anyone.

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Howl's Moving Castle

By Diana Wynne Jones

Book cover of Howl's Moving Castle

Why this book?

Depression, you say? Isn't Howl’s Moving Castle about wizards and fire-spirits, a young woman turned into an ancient crone by a curse, and an ebullient Welshman walking between worlds...? Jones is always about so many things; she's one of those authors in whose works there's always more to discover on a second or fifth or ninth reading. But the first part of the book, in which Sophie, after her father's death, finds herself growing weary and timid, dressing more and more to erase herself, and becoming afraid to leave her house and hat-shop to venture even just across town to visit her sister, has always struck me as a very powerful portrayal of the effects of grief and the depression that it may trigger. One of my all-time favourite books by one of my all-time favourite authors!

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