Essential New YA Books About Mental Health

by Kerri Jarema

Young Adult authors aren't pulling any punches in 2017. They are telling stories that are not only diverse, they are tackling serious issues. We've got books coming out this year that delve into race, gender, sexuality, immigration and way more, all unflinchingly honest and raw in their depictions. Another crucial topic authors are delving into? Mental health.

There has been a stigma around mental health for as long as it has been acknowledged. Not only have people with mental health conditions often been told just to "Cheer up!" as if they can control their anxiety or depression, many have viewed mental health as something other; dangerous or scary. Now more than ever, it is crucial for us to understand the daily struggles of those who deal with mental health conditions, so that we can demand the proper health care coverage for everyone who needs medication or therapy or some other treatment for their condition... regardless of their job status or salary.

If 2017 is the year of resistance, it's also the year of learning. Now is the time to put ourselves in others' shoes, walk around in them a little, and learn to understand experiences that are different from our own. These nine books all grapple with some form of mental health, from anxiety to OCD to trauma.


'History Is All You Left Me' by Adam Silvera

Adam Silvera's sophomore release follows Griffin, a teen who is not only dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but who is also going through the trauma of losing his best friend and former boyfriend, Theo, in a drowning accident. Both of these things affect Griffin as he tries to move on with is life, complicating matters even more when he meets Jackson, Theo's boyfriend at the time of his death. Jackson is the only person who truly understands Griffin's heartache, but no one can relate to Griffin's constant struggle not to lose himself to his compulsions and destructive choices. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

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'A List of Cages' by Robin Roe

Robin Roe's debut delves into ADHD and the trauma of abuse as it follows Adam Blake, who lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years. Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.

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'Under Rose-Tainted Skies' by Louise Gornall

At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house are her entire life, because her anxiety and agoraphobia don't allow for much else. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed. But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees — but she needs to find her own beauty, too.

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'10 Things I Can See From Here' by Carrie Mac (February 28, 2017)

10 Things I Can See From Here is a poignant look at dealing with the day to day of severe anxiety while also experiencing first love. Our main character Maeve has been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom — the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through — is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver, which brings a slew of new fears. But Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, dealing with her pregnant stepmom, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen.

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'Goodbye Days' by Jeff Zentner (March 7, 2017)

Jeff Zentner's Goodbye Days deals with anxiety and trauma following Carver Briggs, who was behind the wheel of the car when it fatally crashed, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths. Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend, Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help? Or has one text message destroyed his life forever?

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'Everything All At Once' by Katrina Leno (June 6, 2017)

Lottie Reeves has always struggled with anxiety. But when her beloved Aunt Helen dies, Lottie begins to fear that her own unexpected death might be waiting around every corner. And Aunt Helen wasn’t a typical aunt. She was the author of the best–selling Alvin Hatter series, about siblings who discover the elixir of immortality. Her writing inspired a generation of readers. In her will, she leaves one last writing project—just for Lottie. It’s a series of letters, each containing mysterious instructions designed to push Lottie out of her comfort zone. Soon, Lottie’s trying some writing of her own, leaping off cliffs, and even falling for a boy she’s only just met. Then the letters reveal an extraordinary secret about the inspiration for the Alvin Hatter series. Lottie finds herself faced with an impossible choice, one that will force her to confront her greatest fear once and for all.

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'Little & Lion' by Brandy Colbert (August 8, 2017)

An incredible story about mental illness and how it can affect a family, Brady Colbert's Little & Lion follows Suzette, just home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, and she isn't sure if she'll ever want to go back. Her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support. But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new... the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel's disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself — or worse. This is a necessary, endearing, heart-wrenching examination of the realities of mental illness.

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'The Thing With Feathers' by McCall Hoyle (September 5, 2017)

While this book primarily deals with the daily realities of epilepsy, it also delves into how physical health issues can affect your mental state, causing fear and anxiety as you try to live your every day life. Emilie Day believes in playing it safe: she’s home-schooled and her best friend is her seizure dog. Then Emilie’s mom enrolls her in public school, and Emilie goes from studying at home in her pj’s to halls full of strangers. Then Emilie is paired with starting point guard Chatham York for a project on Emily Dickinson. She should be ecstatic when Chatham shows interest, but she has a problem: she hasn’t told anyone about her epilepsy. Emilie lives in constant fear that her medication will fail and she’ll seize at school. Eventually, the worst happens, and she must decide whether to withdraw to safety or start to see the possibility of something more.

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'Bad Romance' by Heather Demetrios (June 13, 2017)

This book deals primarily with the trauma of abuse, both emotional and physical. Grace wants out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director — anything but scared and alone. Then she meets Gavin, who is charming and talented, but also controlling and dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it's too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she's unable to escape. This is a deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest story about spiraling into darkness — and emerging into the light again.

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