May is Mental Health Awareness Month, dedicated to drawing attention to and increasing understanding of mental illness and easing the stigma surrounding it. Sometimes, the best way to deal with the tough stuff is with a good book – so here are seven books that engage with the issue of mental health.
Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
opens in a new window After his father is killed by an Oakland police officer, Moss Jeffries struggles to deal with his grief alongside panic attacks. While the community rallies around him, he just wishes he was someone else – someone who could just devote himself to his studies and his boyfriend in peace. As always, though, life doesn’t make that easy – but Moss might be stronger than he knows.
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
opens in a new window Etta doesn’t quite fit in anywhere she goes: she’s too bisexual for her lesbian friends, not white enough for ballet, and not skinny enough to fit the model for people with an eating disorder. Not Otherwise Specified is about working your way through recovery and trying to find a place to belong when none of the boxes quite fit.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
opens in a new window We all want to be the Chosen One, but the fact is that most of us are really the background characters. The Rest of Us Just Live Here follows one of those background characters, Mike, just trying to get through the day without someone blowing up the school. In the midst of this fantastical setting, though, Mike struggles with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Even in a world where your best friend might be worshipped by cats, mental illness can be a more concrete problem than any supervillain.
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
opens in a new window On the face of it, Samantha seems normal, functional, one of the popular kids. On the inside, though, she’s consumed by a string of worry and dark obsession that she can’t silence. Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD, and she lives in constant terror that someone might find out that she’s not as perfect as she appears. When a new friend introduces her to a group of misfits, though, Sam might find a place where she can feel more comfortable than she’s ever felt with her popular friends.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
opens in a new window After a nightmare summer that’s left her a social pariah, Melinda has basically given up speaking altogether, only finding her voice through her art. This classic YA novel may not be about mental illness in the same way as others on this list, but it delves into the aftermath of sexual assault and the resulting trauma, but also shows the resilience and power that comes from finding your own voice in the face of overwhelming silence.
Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliot
opens in a new window Pea’s rare eating disorder feels like it’s going to take over her life. But thanks to her supportive family, her work in therapy, and her wonderful new boyfriend, she starts to feel like she’s got everything under control – only for everything to quickly spiral out of it. Sad Perfect shows that ‘better’ doesn’t always mean ‘cured’, and a portrayal of avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) that sensitively explores eating disorders beyond anorexia and bulimia.
In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner
opens in a new window After his beloved father’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and a disastrous mental breakdown, seventeen-year-old Klee wakes up in a mental institution with only fragmented memories of how he got there. In Sight of Stars delves into the process of therapy and recovery, slowly building the story of what happened that led to Klee’s being committed and the process of his healing and getting out again, and back on his feet.