Since its publication in January, Jennifer Niven's young adult debut, All the Bright Places , has quickly become beloved by both readers and critics. It's a New York Times bestseller, and has already been optioned for a motion picture starring Elle Fanning... which we can't wait for, by the way.
It's a feat, but Niven successfully captures the agony and stigmatization experienced by those suffering from mental illness, while telling a story that is by turns devastating and inspiring. (Seriously. Read it and cry your eyes out for a million years.) She educates her readers without patronizing them, and never loses sight of the fact that Finch and Violet are complex, dynamic individuals who are more than just their illnesses.
Mental illness is a tricky topic to cover, partially because it's still a taboo subject. A successful narrative neither sensationalizes nor minimizes the illness, and allows readers to get inside the head of the protagonist, experiencing her struggle with her. We hopefully walk away from these books with a better understanding and more empathy for those who struggle with illnesses that may not be visible, but are still very, very real.
If you loved All The Bright Places, here are 11 more books that'll draw you into the struggles of their characters, and provide insight on a variety of tough topics that are often misunderstood or stigmatized. You'll walk away feeling compassion for these characters, and at the same time be rapt by their stories. What more could you ask for?
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Eating disorders are a challenging topic to tackle because they are often glamorized and, as a result, the mental and physical pain associated with them is downplayed. If anyone can successfully navigate this subject matter, it's Laurie Halse Anderson. Cassie and Lia's friendship becomes toxic when they decide to see who can become the thinnest. As their eating disorders intensify, the friendship crumbles and the two become estranged. When the book begins, Cassie has died and Lia is wracked with guilt for ignoring the 33 phone calls she received from her former friend the night of her death. She deals with her grief by plunging further into anorexia.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
When Clay receives a mysterious package of cassette tapes, he's shocked to hear the voice of his classmate and crush, Hannah, who committed suicide two weeks earlier. She's sent recordings to 13 peers explaining how their actions contributed to her spiral of despair and ultimately her decision to end her life. As Clay listens to Hannah's words, he comes to understand her message that every act of bullying — and act of kindness, too — matters.
Never Ending by Martyn Bedford
Like Violet, Shiv suffers from PTSD and survivor's guilt after losing a beloved sibling. Her anguish is so debilitating that she is hospitalized at the Korsakoff Clinic. The narrative alternates between the days leading up to her brother's death and Shiv's inpatient therapy as she comes to grips with her loss.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten
Adam's severe obsessive-compulsive disorder dominates his days and prevents him from developing friendships with his peers. He attends a Young Adult OCD Support Group, but doesn't begin to engage until he meets Robyn, who has recently been discharged from a residential treatment center. Like All the Bright Places, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B explores how two teenagers navigate a romance while grappling with the everyday struggles of a consuming illness.
I Was Here by Gayle Forman
Cody is stunned and devastated when her best friend, Meg, commits suicide. When she uncovers hidden files on Meg's computer, Cody delves into her friend's secret life and desperately searches for answers to what drove Meg to do the unthinkable.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
What's it like to be a teenager whose parent suffers from mental illness? Hayley's father, Andy, has severe PTSD from his time in Iraq and copes by abusing drugs and alcohol. She lives in fear that he will hurt himself or someone else and sacrifices her own childhood to look after him. Anderson captures the terrifying power of PTSD and how it affects every aspect of Hayley and Andy's lives.
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaria
Neglected by her parents, Laurel internalizes her grief over her sister's recent death and her shame from being sexually abused. An English assignment to write a letter to a dead person turns into a powerful form of healing for Laurel. Through her series of letters to people from Kurt Cobain to Amy Winehouse, Laurel slowly and painfully works through her anguish and finds her voice.
Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
Suicide attempts have landed Vanessa, Tony, and Conner in a psychiatric hospital. As they adjust to life under constant surveillance, they find their own healing through their friendships with one another. Written in free verse, Hopkins captures what drives individuals to attempt suicide, and the courage it takes to choose life.
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Flashbacks of childhood sexual abuse come rushing back to Kendra, but one detail is missing: the perpetrator's identity. She copes with her PTSD through self-harm, which she carefully keeps hidden from everyone including her therapist. When she begins receiving threats from her rapist, Kendra finds support through her art teacher and a new love interest.
I Don't Want To Be Crazy by Samantha Schutz
Samantha Schutz leaves for college excited about new freedoms and possibilities. But academic and social pressures quickly build up, and she begins to suffer from increasingly debilitating anxiety. Written in poetic verse, I Don't Want To Be Crazy takes readers through the distress and incapacitation experienced by those who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders.
Clean by Amy Reed
What does it feel like to be an addict whose vice is suddenly taken away? Reed's five main characters come from different backgrounds and have different drugs of choice, but when they enter rehab they are all forced to confront what they fear most: themselves.
Image: Jennifer Niven/Facebook