In Emery Lord's new novel, When We Collided, both of the main characters are living with their own mental health struggles. Jonah is dealing with the aftermath of his father's death, drowning in family responsibilities while his mother is catatonic with grief.
Vivi,while as bright as the splattered paint across the book's cover, suffers from manic-depressive bipolar disorder, and while she seems to bring sunshine and fun wherever she goes, her impulsive behaviour ripples against everyone around her.
It's a book that addresses mental health but the characters' issues by no means define them, and seeing as author Emery drew on her own experiences to tell the story, we figured she'd be the perfect gal to share her Top 10 YA books that tackle all sorts of mental illnesses.
Emery Lord writes...
I'm so happy to share ten YA books that discuss mental health. Symptoms and treatment of mental illness are so specific to each individual, and these stories are ones that really connected with me personally.
For me and many of my friends and family, working toward mental health is a fairly average part of our lives. I hope readers find these books as relatable, honest, and sensitive as I did.
1. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta – Depression
In this book, it's not the protagonist, Francesca, who's depressed. It's her mother who becomes increasingly trapped in her episode and in her bedroom. I love that Francesca struggles to understand with great compassion, that she is confused and frustrated and loving all at once. The book showcases the entire family dynamic, as well as school friends, as everyone tries to cope. Highly recommended for anyone who suffers from depression or loves someone who does. (Which is like, all of us, right?)
2. The Chance You Won't Return by Annie Cardi – Thought disorder
This is my other pick for protagonists whose parents are struggling with their mental health. Narrator Alex's mom is under a protracted delusion that she's Amelia Earhart. Obviously, this is a really unusual and specific issue, but the way each member of the family tries to cope/support felt really universal to me.
3. This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales – Depression with suicidal ideation
Gosh, I loved this book. I felt so deeply understood while reading the first chapter that it was surreal. For me, the core of this story is about feeling connected to something. The protagonist Elise finds it in music, in something she's good at and in finding the other kids who feel just a little out of place.
4. My Heart & Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga - Depression with suicidal ideation
My favorite thing about this honest, sensitive book is that I laughed. I know not everyone finds dark humor in their struggles toward mental health, but I do. Something about seeing the irony or absurdism in my own pain takes a little bit of power away from it, and that matters to me. Sometimes I think there is a thin line between tragic and comic, and Jasmine Warga skates the line so beautifully.
5. The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (series) - Anxiety, Panic
Protagonist Ruby Oliver is one of the most relatable YA heroines for me, right down to her anxiety and panic attacks. I love that she's actively in therapy and that she's a vibrant, smart, hilarious, messy character who is not defined by her anxiety.
6. Love & Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey – Anxiety /Agoraphobia
I liked so many things about this book, not the least of which was seeing a portrayal of anxiety that deeply resonated with me. But I particularly loved how Internet interaction was drawn as a valid, meaningful connection because it is for people, especially those who have social anxiety.
7. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller - PTSD
This is one of my all-time favorite contemporary YAs. The protagonist, Travis, is on leave from war, and his voice just rings so authentically. I particularly loved that his fellow soldiers/friends all process being home in different ways, giving the reader an insight that there is truly no one—or two, or three—ways to be a person who has fought in a war.
8. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios– PTSD
Like Something Like Normal, this book features the POV of a solider. One thing I loved in particular is how his PTSD intersects with both his new disability/prosthetic leg and with life in a very poor community. This is also an instance where dual-POV works so, so brilliantly. The primary narrator, a teen girl named Skye, gets a different read on Josh than we get from his chapters, and it's a fantastic balance to get a greater picture.
9. Pointe by Brandy Colbert- Eating disorder
There are several important books that focus on EDs centrally, but I loved that, in Pointe, body image is one piece of the greater web of Theo's life. Brandy Colbert smoothly illustrates how multi-faceted teen lives and struggles can be, with no single issue always at the forefront.
10. Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens- self-harm
Court Stevens approaches several very dark topics with utter compassion and soulfulness. It's a tender balance of revealing buried secrets while giving the characters a support system. To give you an idea of the result, my mom tends to prefer lighter reads, but she loved this book. She bought it immediately after hearing Court talk at an event, which is everyone's reaction. Though the book stands on its own, Court is the exact person you hope is talking to teens: loving and honest and full of belief in them.
NOW READ THIS LOT TOO