10 YA Novels That Center On Depression

by Catherine Kovach

I love YA novels, especially young adult books that tackle tough subjects. One of the toughest issues teen face today is depression. According to Mental Health America, depression in teens is rising at an alarming rate, and every year more than 5,000 people between the ages of 15 to 24 commit suicide. That's an alarming number no matter the age, but the fact that these numbers concern a group of people who have barely begun to see what life has to offer makes it even sadder.

I suffer from depression, and one of the hardest parts about the disease is the stigma that comes with it. Depression is considered abnormal, and people who suffer from it are picked apart and told they need to "suck it up."

One of the best ways to normalize depression is by integrating it into our culture. That’s where these YA novels come in. Teens (and adults — myself included) need to read about people like them. We need to read about the coping, the triumphs, the failures. We need to know about these things, so that we no longer feel alone. The hardest part about depression, in my opinion, is feeling like I’m alone. However, I’m not, and neither are you. I’ve compiled a list of 10 YA novels that center on depression. I hope that you find some solace or perhaps a little understanding in these books. Either way, I hope you feel a little less alone.

1. Cut by Patricia McCormick

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Fifteen-year-old Callie is interned at a rehabilitation facility due to the fact that she cuts herself. At Sea Pines, Callie refuses to speak or participate in therapy — that is until Amanda, a fellow cutter, enters the facility. Amanda flaunts her own scars, and the more she does it, the harder it is for Callie to stay silent. This tale of therapy and healing might be difficult to read for those who have experienced it.

2. By the Time You Read This I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

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After a string of failed suicide attempts, Daelyn Rice is determined to finally do it "right." She visits a website dedicated to "completers" called There, she talks about her life, including her bullied past. One day, a boy named Santana begins to sit with her after school while she waits for her parents to pick her up. Although Daelyn has made it clear she wants to be left alone, Santana refuses to give up. What's the point of making a friend, Daelyn wonders, if you don't plan on being around much longer?

3. Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

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When 15-year-old Jeff wakes up in a psychiatric wards on New Years Day, he's sure there must be some sort of mistake. Sure, he has bandages on his wrists and notes in his chart. Sure, he attempted to do what he did because of the problems he's been having with his best friend, Allie, and her boyfriend, Burke. That's all fine though, because he's not crazy like the rest of the people around him. However, as he serves out his 45 days sentence in the psych ward, he begins to realize that maybe all the "crazies" aren't so different from him after all. A little more lighthearted than summary may indicate, this shows one teenager's journey through his own stigma against mental illness.

4. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

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Sixteen-year-old Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. Haunted by the violent crime that her father committed, she's been alienated by the kids at school, and even her own mother can't look at her without wincing. With nowhere else to turn, Aysel turns to a suicide support website called Suicide Partners, where she's paired with with a teenage boy named Roman who is also haunted by a family tragedy. Aysel and Roman couldn't be more different, but as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to wonder if they should die together when there's so much potential between them. Roman seems determined — so is it too late?

5. The Last Time We Say Good Bye by Cynthia Hand

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Lex used to have it all: good friends, a loving boyfriend, a happy family. That was all before her brother killed himself, and now it seems as though she's never going to shake the label of being the sister of a suicide. As she tries to rebuild her life, Lex also tries to block out what happened the night her brother died, especially the last text Tyler ever sent. It was a text that could change everything. This book focuses frankly on the grief a teenager can experience when faced with a senseless tragedy, and reminds people that ghosts don't have to be real to haunt you.

6. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria

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When Laurel is given an English assignment to write a letter to a dead person, she chooses Kurt Cobain. Her sister May absolutely loved Kurt Cobain, and he died young, just like May. Laurel keeps a binder full of letters to the dead, even though she never gave a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about mundane things, about school, her family, falling in love for the first time, but the biggest thing she focuses on is her navigation through the grieving process for her sister. The problem is, how can Laurel properly mourn if she hasn't forgiven her sister yet?

7. The Love Story that Shouldn't Have Been by Melissa Grijalva

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Plagued by an eating disorder as well as a compulsion to self mutilate, 16-year-old Dellia Sanchez has turned into an angry, ravenous, and violent person who'd much rather punch someone in the face than talk about her problems. She's fully accepted the fact that in any story she'd be considered the antagonist. Suddenly, against her will, she finds herself falling in love for the first time, and to her horror, she begins to realize that her dark life is morphing into the cheesy fantasy she's always dreaded. As a person whose depression manifests in such a way where happiness actually seems out of character, this book resonates with me for so many reasons.

8. The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting by Holly Bourne

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Aspiring author Bree is a total loser who hides behind her own words and hates pretty much everything, including school, her absentee parents, and, of course, her life. When she's told that she needs to start living a life worth writing about, Bree develops the Manifesto on How to Be Interesting, a six-step program to becoming a more fascinating person. This Manifesto will end with Bree infiltrating the popular crowd, falling in love, and making the biggest mistake of her life. A more lighthearted view of depression, which is important in its own right.

9. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

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Eighteen-year-old James is poised to start his freshman year at Brown, but instead he's surfing real estate looking for a Kansas farmhouse to escape to. Sure, James lives in Manhattan, but he's more interested in the far off worlds of his favorite writers, and that disconnect is becoming more and more distracting to him. To make matters worse, he's becoming more infatuated with his male coworker at the art gallery his mother owns. This coming of age novel studies the effect of low-level depression and how it can influence a teenager.

10. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

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In this translated French novel, we meet 12-year-old Paloma, a genius living in a hotel who has decided to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. Until then she's going to live the life everyone expects of her, that of a good (but not great) student and an obedient (but rather stubborn) daughter. We also meet Renée, the concierge of the hotel trapped in her own stereotype, while secretly hiding a very rich and intelligent inner life. The two of them are united when Ozu, a Japanese man, arrives in the building and begins to gain the trust of both of them. This book is full of philosophy, humor, and heartache.

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