The best novels to showcase varied (and brutally honest) experiences of mental illness

Who am I?

I’m a teacher turned author. I’ve spent hours in middle and high schools watching students struggle because they couldn’t get the support they need. And hours listening to the experiences of child and adult victims my husband brought home from work. When we as a society begin to treat mental illness as simply illness, we’ll be on the right track to giving our society the support it needs.

I wrote...

Stronger Than You Know

By Jolene Perry,

Book cover of Stronger Than You Know

What is my book about?

I wrote Stronger Than You Know because we don’t talk often enough about what happens after the rescue. At fifteen, Joy has been “rescued” from her abusive mother and is desperately struggling to find a new normal in a house and family that feel too perfect to be real. My inspiration came from the heartbreaking cases my husband brought home from his job as a prosecutor and victim’s advocate. The trauma isn’t over when the trauma ends—healing takes time, no matter how ideal the new situation is.

The books I picked & why

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Watch Over Me

By Nina Lacour,

Book cover of Watch Over Me

Why this book?

There’s something about the paranormal slant of this book that allows it to highlight so much of the journey from ignoring the past and moving forward, to re-remembering the past and learning to accept it and move forward with it rather than running away from the events that shape us.

Brilliant writing. Great for anyone who has gone into a new situation feeling completely out of place. Deals with PTSD/Repressed memories in such a thoughtful way.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

By Adib Khorram,

Book cover of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Why this book?

First, and very selfishly, I specialized in middle east studies in college, so I loved every piece of this story that takes place in Iran. My other favorite thing is that Darius suffers from clinical depression and it’s not due to an accident or past trauma, it’s simply how his body functions. This book showcases so well that mental illness is like any other illness—and it’s done by using the blocks that so many people on medications face from people who don’t understand this basic principle.

Turtles All the Way Down

By John Green,

Book cover of Turtles All the Way Down

Why this book?

Does John Green need me to recommend his book? No, he does not. However. I’ve talked to so many teens about this book who have said – He gets how my brain works and that’s a fabulous thing. As a parent, I loved this inside into how my oldest was struggling, and as a human, I loved what I learned. There’s no glorification of her mental health, nor is it used to aid another character in their own story. Turtles All the Way Down is brutally honest about the mistakes and ups and downs that come from having any type of illness.

Suicide Watch

By Kelley York,

Book cover of Suicide Watch

Why this book?

This is a lesser-known book, and I wish more teens had it in their library. There is no shirking behind any kind of veil or safety as Vincent weaves his way through his suicidal ideations, finds friendships, and navigates his health back to safety. This is a quiet novel that’s brutally honest about how one continues on when they’re not sure why they should.

Bonus for animal lovers as Vincent spends a lot of time at the local animal shelter.


By Laurie Halse Anderson,

Book cover of Wintergirls

Why this book?

When I teach writers about how seemingly simple scenes can hold huge tension, I talk about the opening of Wintergirls. Huge emotion and many pages dedicated to only a few minutes within Lia’s day. It’s heartbreaking and honest but so full of hope. This also showcases how hard it is to find that hope when an illness has taken over your thoughts and when grief clouds everything else. The language of this book is a masterclass in emotion and showcases so well what it’s like when your life is consumed by an eating disorder.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in best friends, Northern California, and mental disorders?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about best friends, Northern California, and mental disorders.

Best Friends Explore 47 books about best friends
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Mental Disorders Explore 86 books about mental disorders

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding, and Loving Someone with OCD: Help for You & Your Family if you like this list.