The best magical realism books about mental health

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid, I devoured books with any magical element, especially those somehow linked to nature. As I grew older and discovered that my emotional struggles were a signal of mental health issues, I turned to books again to make sense of my shattered world. I've found that magical realism is an incredible vehicle to explore the deep truths and questions behind mental health, healing, and grief, providing a way to make sense of the unexplainable. I slowly found my way to my own healing and wrote the book I needed as a young adult. I'm forever grateful to the authors of these books for providing a haven for souls like mine.


I wrote...

The Night Fox

By Ashley Wilda,

Book cover of The Night Fox

What is my book about?

When seventeen-year-old Eli arrives at Raeth, a remote mountain retreat for teens with mental health issues, her mind is made up—she's not interested in participating, and she doesn’t need to “heal.” Still reeling from a breakup that left both her heart and faith shattered, she's determined to fake being “fine” so that the program’s warden will clear her to return home. But the retreat has other ideas. The valley’s magical surroundings transform each time she ventures out, playing with her mind and dredging up her grief-laden memories. Despite the warning signs, Eli explores more of the area than she ever planned, even venturing into the dangerous night realm.

This spellbinding novel mixes prose and poetry into an exquisite and evocative portrait of love, grief, depression, and the slow path toward healing.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Watch Over Me

Ashley Wilda Why did I love this book?

This is my favorite book in the entire world (at least for the time being)!

The voice and writing are deliciously lyrical, while also offering a raw, authentic look at mental health and the deep human longing to belong. I recommend this book to just about everyone I meet, whether they struggle with mental health or not, because the descriptions of nature, the believable magical elements, and the portrayal of friendship always take my breath away.

I truly struggle for words to explain what this book means to me… so you’ll just have to read it!

By Nina Lacour,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Watch Over Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

A modern ghost story about trauma and survival, Watch Over Me is the much-anticipated new novel from the Printz Award-winning author of We Are Okay

"Gripping; an emotion-packed must-read." -Kirkus, starred review
"A painfully compelling gem from a masterful creator." -Booklist, starred review
"Moving, unsettling, and full of atmospheric beauty." -SLJ, starred review

Mila is used to being alone.

Maybe that's why she said yes. Yes to a second chance in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.

But she hadn't known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila…


Book cover of We Are All So Good at Smiling

Ashley Wilda Why did I love this book?

A novel in verse with a thrilling magical bent, this book defied all my expectations while somehow exceeding them.

Out of all the books on my list, this one is the most blatantly magical, but the wild happenings are so woven into the contemporary setting that they feel believable. I also love how this book deals with two protagonists who struggle with depression and grief in different ways and find ways to support each other without belittling the intensity of each other’s suffering. Add in a satisfying plot twist, and this book is a soulful, brilliant ride.

By Amber McBride,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Are All So Good at Smiling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

They Both Die at the End meets The Bell Jar in this haunting, beautiful young adult novel-in-verse about clinical depression and healing from trauma, from National Book Award Finalist Amber McBride.

Whimsy is back in the hospital for treatment of clinical depression. When she meets a boy named Faerry, she recognizes they both have magic in the marrow of their bones. And when Faerry and his family move to the same street, the two start to realize that their lifelines may have twined and untwined many times before.

They are both terrified of the forest at the end of Marsh…


Book cover of How It Feels to Float

Ashley Wilda Why did I love this book?

This book uses ghosts and the feeling of floating to achingly and truthfully illustrate how it feels to live your life through a cloud of depression, anxiety, and grief.

The reality of living with disassociation can be incredibly hard to capture, but the author does so seamlessly, filtering every element of the story through the protagonist’s unique lens. Hope is also layered into this book in a sensitive and incredibly truthful way, which is so important when talking about mental health.

The natural setting only adds to the aching beauty of this story.

By Helena Fox,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How It Feels to Float as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best of the Year

"Profoundly moving . . . Will take your breath away." -Kathleen Glasgow, author of Girl in Pieces

A stunningly gorgeous and deeply hopeful portrayal of living with mental illness and grief, from an exceptional new voice.

Biz knows how to float. She has her people, her posse, her mom and the twins. She has Grace. And she has her dad, who tells her about the little kid she was, and who shouldn't be here but is. So Biz doesn't tell anyone…


Book cover of Maybe a Fox

Ashley Wilda Why did I love this book?

Although this book is aimed at slightly younger readers, I’d be remiss not to mention it – this book is such a valuable read for both kids and adults alike.

Another book that deals with processing grief and the terrible weight of guilt through magic and nature. Of the dual points of view, one is a fox, the main character’s dead sibling reborn, giving this book a tender, poignant throughline.

By Kathi Appelt, Alison McGhee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Maybe a Fox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Worlds collide spectacularly when Newbery and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt and Pulitzer Prize nominee and #1 New York Times bestseller Alison McGhee team up to create a fantastical, heartbreaking and gorgeous tale about two sisters, a fox cub ... and what happens when one sister disappears.

Sylvie and Jules, Jules and Sylvie. Better than just sisters, better than best friends. Jules' favourite thing is collecting rocks, and Sylvie's is running - fast. But Sylvie is too fast, and when she runs to the most dangerous part of the river one snowy morning to throw in a wish rock,…


Book cover of A Breath Too Late

Ashley Wilda Why did I love this book?

This book is a heavy read but a vital one. After the main character dies by suicide before the book begins, a fragment of her is left in the world, attempting to piece her shattered memory back together and remember why she left.

A heartbreaking but hope-giving look at the heaviest and most beautiful moments in life, this book ultimately reminds readers that there’s always a reason to hold on.

By Rocky Callen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Breath Too Late as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

For fans of Girl in Pieces, All the Bright Places, and Girl, Interrupted comes a haunting and breathtaking YA contemporary debut novel that packs a powerful message: hope can be found in the darkness.

“Achingly poignant . . . a love letter and a life raft to the brokenhearted.” –New York Times bestselling author Alison McGhee

Seventeen-year-old Ellie had no hope left. Yet the day after she dies by suicide, she finds herself in the midst of an out-of-body experience. She is a spectator, swaying between past and present, retracing the events that unfolded prior to her death.

But there…


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Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

Book cover of Beautiful and Terrible Things

S. M. Stevens

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Charley Byrne isn’t really living. She hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, until quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander’s circle of diverse friends and thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

But the new friendships bring back-to-back betrayals that threaten the bookstore—Charley’s haven—and propel her into a dangerous depression, in a stark reminder that friendship has the power to destroy as well as save lives. Can her friends save the store? And Charley?

Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

What is this book about?

"A beautifully crafted story of friendship and self-discovery set amidst the harsh realities of today's world. Superb!" -Eileen O'Finlan, author of Erin's Children

Charley Byrne isn't really living. At age 29, she hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, afraid of a 7-year curse. Then quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander's circle of friends diverse in their heritage, race, gender and sexual orientation. She thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

But the…


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