The best YA books that shed a light on mental illness

Why am I passionate about this?

One of the reasons I wanted to write about and explore mental health was because I was always fascinated by how the mind works and how it can turn on you without provocation. How and why some people can power through dark times, while others struggle is a topic that, within the African American community, isn't frequently discussed.  Often the advice given to someone about how to get through depression or anxiety is to pray or just dig deep and power through. It is the idea that because our ancestors suffered so much, those of us living in "easier" times should have nothing to be sad about that seems to prevent us from asking for help or getting therapy. 


I wrote...

Silhouetted by the Blue

By Traci L. Jones,

Book cover of Silhouetted by the Blue

What is my book about?

With the lead in the school musical, Serena should have it all. If only her dad’s depression wasn’t keeping him in bed, unable to care for her little brother. Living with someone with mental illness can be a challenge if you are an adult, Silhouetted explores what happens when your caretakers suffer from depression so badly that they can no longer take care of themselves or their children.

I wrote Silhouetted by the Blue about depression because I wanted to explore how living with someone with mental illness can color the lives of everyone in the household.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Traci L. Jones Why did I love this book?

Khorram deftly takes two serious subjects in Darius the Great, coming out to parents and teen depression. It is rare to find books that tackle mental illness with a POC main character. I also loved how Khorram has created a book that is a love story – love of family, love of friendship, and most importantly, the importance of loving oneself. I loved the look into a culture I knew little about. 

By Adib Khorram,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Darius the Great Is Not Okay as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He's a Fractional Persian - half, his mum's side - and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life. Darius has never really fit in at home, and he's sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn't exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they're spending their days together, playing soccer, eating…


Book cover of When Elephants Fly

Traci L. Jones Why did I love this book?

Lily’s mom has schizophrenia and Lily is terrified that she might get it too. Lily gets personally involved in a story at her newspaper internship about an abandoned elephant calf. Feeling a kinship with the elephant, Lily goes through extraordinary lengths to make sure the calf finds a safe home, while at the same time, realizing that she has begun to show signs of mental illness. Fischer combines mental illness, family, friendship, and animal welfare into a riveting, thought-provoking book. I loved how she showed the reader how a character can live with the early stages of schizophrenia without losing her sense of self and purpose. 

By Nancy Richardson Fischer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Elephants Fly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

"Nancy Richardson Fischer deserves high praise for her well-researched and endearing novel. Her imagination, craft, and effort has resulted in her writing a piece of fiction that is worthy of winning a prize. This really is an outstanding piece of fiction that cannot be recommended enough.” –New York Journal of Books

A Parade Most Anticipated Book of Fall 2018!
A YA Books Central Buzzworthy Books of Fall 2018!
A Publishers Lunch Fall Buzz Book!

Don’t miss one of the most heartwarming young adult novels of the year. Perfect for fans of Water for Elephants, Wonder and All the Bright Places,…


Book cover of Hush

Traci L. Jones Why did I love this book?

Evie Thomas and her family are forced to move away from her childhood home, leaving behind family and friends to protect her father from his fellow officers. Evie has to get used to a new name, life without her older sister, and most importantly, life with her father, whose deep depression has transformed him from a lively, protector to a sad man who sits by the window, gazing at nothing. Tackling depression using an African American protagonist, Woodson has written a moving coming of age novel that shines the light on what it means to live with someone suffering from mental illness. I felt a kinship with Woodson because both of our characters have fathers whose mental health deeply affects how they move about in the world. 

By Jacqueline Woodson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hush 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?

A powerfully moving novel from a three-time Newbery Honor-winning author

Evie Thomas is not who she used to be. Once she had a best friend, a happy home and a loving grandmother living nearby. Once her name was Toswiah.

Now, everything is different. Her family has been forced to move to a new place and change their identities. But that's not all that has changed. Her once lively father has become depressed and quiet. Her mother leaves teaching behind and clings to a new-found religion. Her only sister is making secret plans to leave.

And Evie, struggling to find her…


Book cover of All the Bright Places

Traci L. Jones Why did I love this book?

Two teens find each other through the darkness of their depressive states. While Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, Violet tries to keep her eye on the future, after her sister’s death. Together they work to create new meaning in life. Niven has written a heartbreaking love story that is complex and moving. I love the braveness of Niven not caving to the desire to give her story a bright and happy conclusion. Often authors want to end their books with a "happily ever after” ending. Niven has the courage to break our hearts. 

By Jennifer Niven,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked All the Bright Places 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?

Now a major film starring Elle Fanning and Justice Smith on Netflix.

A compelling and beautiful story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die.

Theodore Finch constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself, but each time something good stops him.

Violet Markey exists for the future, counting the days until she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief for her late sister.

When they meet on the ledge of a tower, what might have been their end turns into their beginning.

It's only with Violet that Finch can truly be…


Book cover of Skinny

Traci L. Jones Why did I love this book?

Cooner takes on body dysmorphia in a new and unusual way. Ever once weighed over three hundred pounds but even after gastric bypass surgery she continues to hear the voice in her head, Skinny. Skinny constantly tells Ever that she’s still fat, and therefore unworthy. Even with her continuing weight loss, Skinny tells Ever she’s worthless, unwanted, and disposable. It’s not until Ever confronts her self-doubt that she begins to truly heal mentally. I liked how Cooner gave Ever’s body dysmorphia a literal voice. I feel like many girls with eating disorders would relate to having such a toxic voice in their heads. 

By Donna Cooner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Skinny as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

This novel kickstarted a national conversation on weight, beauty, and transformation. In it, we meet Ever, a fifteen-year-old girl who weighs over 300 pounds and is haunted by a voice in her head she calls "Skinny." Skinny tells Ever she is ugly. Fat. Unlovable. And Ever believes her. When Ever makes the controversial choice to have gastric bypass surgery, she does start losing weight and gains the interest of boys...but Skinny is still there, louder than before. Ever will need to confront that voice before she can truly find, and accept, her own.


You might also like...

A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls

Kathleen Baldwin Author Of Sanctuary for Seers: A Stranje House Novel

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Loves God Mother to Many Wilderness Adventurer History Enthusiast

Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A spy school for girls amidst Jane Austen’s high society.

Daughters of the Beau Monde who don’t fit London society’s strict mold are banished to Stranje House, where the headmistress trains these unusually gifted girls to enter the dangerous world of spies in the Napoleonic wars. #1 NYT bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this exciting historical series "completely original and totally engrossing."

A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

What is this book about?

A School for Unusual Girls is the first captivating installment in the Stranje House series for young adults by award-winning author Kathleen Baldwin. #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this romantic Regency adventure "completely original and totally engrossing."

It's 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England's dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society's constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young…


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