The best queer YA books exploring mental health

Who am I?

I’ve struggled with mental health for most of my life, as have family members and friends I love. It’s extremely important to me that we normalize discussions of mental health so that we can find the best solutions. Anxiety and depression have been major themes in all of the young adult novels I’ve written; it’s my little way of furthering these conversations with the people who need them. I hope you’ll find these suggestions relatable, enjoyable, and question-inducing!

I wrote...

Speech and Debacles

By Heather DiAngelis,

Book cover of Speech and Debacles

What is my book about?

When bisexual 17-year-old Taryn joins her school’s powerhouse Speech and Debate team, she discovers she’s good at acting. But when painful, amped-up cramps invade her pelvis, performing on-demand and getting close to the guy catching her eye become increasingly less feasible. Riker aspires to break into the world of voice acting to perform video game voiceovers. Achieving his dream and getting over the hurdle of talking to the green-eyed new girl from Speech, though, prove impossible when a nagging inner voice constantly reminds him how worthless he is.

As Riker and Taryn float closer together, then farther apart, they both must work to find ways of coping—or they’ll miss out on each other as well as their performance goals.

The books I picked & why

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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?

I adored Adib Khorram’s Darius the Great Is Not Okay. This book follows Darius as he visits family in Iran, where he feels as out of place as he had back in America—he doesn't speak Farsi, he lacks proper social customs, and the people (family or otherwise) are resistant to understanding his mental health issues. His relief comes from Sohrab, a family friend who understands Darius in ways no one ever has.

What struck me about this book is that there’s no question about Darius’s depression—it’s always at the forefront. Likewise, Darius’s dad suffers from similar mental health issues. I was so moved by how Darius and his dad bonded over this disease they shared. What results is a beautifully told story that is both relatable and unique.

The Music of What Happens

By Bill Konigsberg,

Book cover of The Music of What Happens

Why this book?

Author Bill Konigsberg has always pulled me in with his entertaining, well-written, and deep stories. In The Music of What Happens, Max and Jordan bond over their effort to save a 1980s-era food truck to help Jordan’s family stay afloat. Jordan’s secret, though, is that his mom’s mental health is spiraling out of control, and he carries the burden of being the only person able to hold everything together—financially and emotionally. I fell hard for Max and Jordan’s chemistry as well as for Jordan’s struggle of helping his mother through her mental health struggles. 

Deposing Nathan

By Zack Smedley,

Book cover of Deposing Nathan

Why this book?

Deposing Nathan was everything I'd dreamed it would be—deep, torturous, intense, and beautiful. Zack Smedley’s poignant and relevant storytelling hooked me from the first line to the unexpected twist and through the surprising ending. In this powerful story, Nate has been called to deliver a sworn statement against his ex-boyfriend Cam. What first seemed like a simple premise brought me back to my days of questioning sexuality, religion, family expectations, and familial commitment, and it unearthed memories of the struggles of finding myself as a teenager and navigating complex emotions. 

I Kissed Alice

By Anna Birch, Victoria Ying (illustrator),

Book cover of I Kissed Alice

Why this book?

Anna Birch’s I Kissed Alice is an enemies-to-lovers story about two gifted artists, Rhodes and Iliana, at a school for the arts who despise each other in person but fall hard for each other’s online fanfiction personas. Rhodes’s depression and anxiety consume her in the race to win a prestigious scholarship and navigate a complicated dynamic with her alcoholic mother. I found Rhodes’s on-page therapy sessions incredibly refreshing and relatable, something I don’t see enough of in YA fiction. The characters in this story are unlikeable and flawed—extremely so—but for that reason, my heart clenched often at their actions, assumptions, and reactions. Bonus points for the beautiful fanfiction graphics illustrated by Victoria Ying.

The Gravity of Us

By Phil Stamper,

Book cover of The Gravity of Us

Why this book?

The Gravity of Us, by Phil Stamper, is a treasure. Social media influencer Cal and reserved Leon fall for each other when their parents are selected for a NASA mission to Mars, and they’re quickly swept up in the media frenzy surrounding the mission. This book does many things well, including its exploration and open discussions of depression and anxiety within ourselves and within the people we love. 

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