The best young adult books for raising mental health awareness

The Books I Picked & Why

All the Bright Places

By Jennifer Niven

Book cover of All the Bright Places

Why this book?

Jennifer Niven’s writing mesmerizes in this groundbreaking tale about the mental complexities that can bog down the daily lives of teen readers. Her writing handles love, death, and suicide with grace, humor, and heart. If you read this book without ultimately falling in love with the character Theodore Finch, a young man who consistently plots his own suicide and just as consistently has his attempts derailed by the random acts of kindness that seem to spring up all around him, then I’d be as surprised as the millions of viewers on Netflix who made the feature film version of this book an instant classic. Please, please, please read this book. Then watch the movie. You won’t be disappointed in either experience.

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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?

What’s better than a book in which a character, Darius Kellner, knows how to speak fluent Klingon? Well, a book that provides teen readers with an understanding of what it feels like to live with chronic depression and what to do when you feel like you don’t quite fit no matter where you go. One of the features I love most about Adib Khorram’s debut novel is how it artfully describes depression as a potential puzzle piece in one’s life instead of as a defining characteristic, an example we see in brilliant detail when Darius meets Sohrab, the boy who shows him how to recognize and eventually be comfortable in his true identity.

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Highly Illogical Behavior

By John Corey Whaley

Book cover of Highly Illogical Behavior

Why this book?

John Corey Whaley tackles a mental health issue in agoraphobia that is seldom discussed and seems to be even less understood by the general masses. One of the features of this book that makes me go back to read it time and again is how Whaley gives us a window into this heavy experience through his character Lisa Praytor, who goes through great pains to free her friend Solomon from his self imposed captivity in time to get him into college, in light and often comical prose that dances off the page.

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Looking for Alaska

By John Green

Book cover of Looking for Alaska

Why this book?

When Miles Halter ends up at Culver Creek Boarding School just down the hall from the breathtakingly erratic and total badass, Alaska Young, his life changes from boring and conventional to sexy and somewhat self-destructive almost overnight. What I love most about one of John Green’s earliest young adult novels is how Alaska motivates everyone around her to be larger than life, to believe in “the Great Perhaps,” but her past experiences continually haunt her and prevent her from living out her own advice at any deep level. Green provides a heartbreaking perspective on abuse, depression, and self-destruction in this classic coming-of-age tale that breathes with authentic teen characters.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky

Book cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why this book?

If you’re looking for a book that will get you all up in your feels, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the one. Written as an epistolary novel, Chbosky’s character Charlie shares his observations on life through letters he seemingly aims directly at the reader. In them, the reader is introduced to an empathetic, socially awkward young man who is struggling with his own identity, his understanding of the social scene, abuse, addiction, and so many more issues that affect his mental health that it is sometimes hard to see how he will continue to cope throughout the duration of the novel. What makes me go back to this book at least once per year are the many tear-jerker moments Chbosky includes, and how Charlie’s narration truly allows me to feel his experiences directly through his voice.

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