YA Book Recs: Novels that Respect Mental Illness

Mental-Health-Awareness-Week-Logo.pngHello, everyone! This week is mental health awareness week run by the Mental Health Foundation. As this is an area I’m really passionate about both personally and as a psychology student, to do my bit I’ve decided to run a blog feature where I and guest bloggers talk about mental health related topics paired with books and/or blogging to help raise awareness. 🙂 Today I’m welcoming Cristina to the blog!

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Hello, readers! I’m Cristina and I’ve popped over from my YA book blog Girl in the Pages to chat with you today. I’m going to be focusing on YA book recommendations that portray mental illness in a way that is respectful, insightful, and engaging. While it’s great that mental illness is becoming a more prevalent theme in YA, it’s also too often used as merely a plot device or perpetuates stereotypes, doing more harm than good. Finding authors who provide the needed research to effectively write about mental illness as major themes in their books is important not only to bring awareness to the conditions, but to set a standard for the integrity of including such themes in books. I’ve chosen to focus on three major mental illnesses that have novels that portray them with research, respect, insightfulness, and when appropriate, creativity.


Develops after someone lives through a dangerous or frightening event or experience. Often characterized by depression, anxiety, or reliving the initial trauma.


Speak by Laurie Halse AndersonSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak is arguably the most well-known young adult novel that deals with mental illness, as it has been taught widely in the American high school course curriculum, and still remains used and relevant today, 15 years after its initial publication. It handles PTSD in a heartbreaking and introspective first person narrative while also addressing the trigger for the disorder (sexual assault) which is equally important as PTSD is a triggered disorder, rather than something that grows organically. Anderson navigates both PTSD and assault with a rawness that doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of the situation for the reader’s sake.

The Impossible Knife of Memory
by Laurie Halse AndersonThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson appears twice under my recommendation list because she is so skilled and nuanced when writing contemporary novels that deal with mental illness. The Impossible Knife of Memory stands out because it focuses on a protagonist who lives with a parent who has PTSD, and the emotional upheaval of dealing with the everyday challenges of a family member who struggles with their mental health. The protagonist suffers emotionally due to the proximity of her parent’s PTSD as well, as she becomes “parentified” and has to assume the adult responsibilities of her household. The novel delivers messages about not only PTSD, but of dysfunctional family systems and childhood trauma. Anderson’s characters are vivid in their frustration of being dismissed and/or underestimated due to their mental illnesses, and she does a great job showcasing how even someone diagnosed with something as serious as schizophrenia can be intelligent, smart, and determined- the disorder is not their whole life.

Difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. May manifest in auditory and/or visual hallucinations, causing difficulty in social interactions.


The Masked Truth by Kelley ArmstrongThe Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong
It’s easy to assume that a novel marketed as a thriller would be insensitive to the topic of mental illness. However, The Masked Truth uses different mental illnesses, as well as the stigmas around them, to craft a plot where not only the readers will debate the reliability of the narrators, but the narrators doubt their credibility themselves. No doubt an exciting and engaging plot, this book also looks closely at the discrimination those diagnosed with mental disorders, especially schizophrenia, face, and how those stigmas and stereotypes can be manipulated by the media and used against them.

Made You Up
by Francesca ZappaMade You Up by Francesca Zappia

Made You Up deals with mental illness pretty candidly, as Alex, the protagonist, struggles through her schizophrenia in an attempt to be a normal, college bound teen. The novel has a few mysteries surrounding it, and readers get to see the day to day challenges Alex faces as she tries to differentiate her hallucinations from reality, and the insightful yet saddening lengths she goes through to try to stay on top of her disorder, such as her constant picture taking so that she can look back on memories later and determine if they happened, or if they were a hallucination. While I had a difficult time following the timeline and plot points of the novel, it gives a very authentic feel to what it must be like to deal with a disorder where keeping the day to day realities straight and living with the thread of constant confusion of real vs. unreal looming over one’s head.

Bipolar Disorder
Characterized by episodes of depression and episodes of mania.

When We Collided by Emery LordWhen We Collided by Emery Lord
The newest novel by Emery Lord, When We Collided is unique in that it is told in dual POVs, so readers see both sides dealing with mental illness: that of the afflicted, and the struggle of those close to them. Lord does a stunning job portraying both the manic and the depressive episodes, and manages to bring readers into those episodes as though they are feeling the whirlwind of emotions. The book at times feels appropriately like an emotional roller coaster, and when things are spinning out of control it stays consistent and compelling. Lord truly manages to cleverly structure her novel’s plot in a way that mirrors the disorder at its center.

Have you read any particularly good YA books that have a respectful and well-researched approach to mental health? Can you recommend any good books featuring PTSD, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder? Let me know in the comments!


Cristina Girl in the PagesCristina is a working professional by day, and voracious reader and blogger by night. She has an addiction to all things young adult, critical discussions, and Sarah J Maas novels. When not reading, you can usually find her at a Disney theme park or book festival. Cristina is the founder of the book blog Girl in the Pages.


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Thanks for participating, Cristina! Great to have you on the blog. There are some awesome recommendations here, and you can be sure they’re all going on my to-read list straight away. 🙂

11 thoughts on “YA Book Recs: Novels that Respect Mental Illness

  1. I added “Speak” to my TBR a few weeks ago…it’s the third time it’s popped up on my radar since then. 🙂

    You might also want to have a look at “So Much to Tell You” by John Marsden, another excellent story.

  2. Pingback: Teaser Tuesday #4 – Bookmyopia

  3. I haven’t read any of these but they will definitely be added to my Goodreads list! I am passionate about raising awareness of mental health problems and I enjoy YA books so these recommendations seem perfect x


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