The best five YA books that shed a light on mental illness

The Books I Picked & Why

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

By Adib Khorram

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Why 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. 


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When Elephants Fly

By Nancy Richardson Fischer

When Elephants Fly

Why 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. 


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Hush

By Jacqueline Woodson

Hush

Why 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. 


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All the Bright Places

By Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places

Why 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. 


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Skinny

By Donna Cooner

Skinny

Why 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. 


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