Hello again from quarantine! If you didn’t know, May is mental health month, and honestly I think we could all use a little help there, especially right now. Mental health is something I’ve been passionate about for a while, both as a neurobiologist and as a person who has struggled with mental health issues. And one great way to see through someone else’s eyes, especially if you’ve never experienced any mental health issues, is to read other people’s stories.
So, to celebrate and spread the word about some of my favorites, here are ten books with strong mental health themes that I enjoyed. Disclaimer: just because I enjoyed them doesn’t mean everyone will. If you loved or hated them, let me know in the comments! And if you want even more recommendations, here is a list of 40 great YA books that deal with mental health.
1. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
This is a book I read within the last few months, and I was absolutely blown away by the beautiful, fantastical storytelling. This book tells the story of Leigh, a teenage girl who recently lost her mother to suicide after a long battle with depression. Unlike many mental health stories out there, this one focuses on the people left behind after suicide and depression and is a deep look into one girl’s grief.
2. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
If you’ve followed me for a while, you may know that Fangirl is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s emotionally intense and ends on a warm, fuzzy note. But for this list, I’d like to highlight what this book brings to the table: it tells the story of two sisters moving into college and growing apart, a father with mental health issues, and a main character who deals with severe anxiety.
3. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Okay, so this one is really similar to Fangirl…a shy, anxious girl in love with a world she built, and no one knows she’s the author. But this one focuses on what happens when her anonymity is broken and suddenly everyone finds out who she is. So, so good, and if you like Fangirl, you’ll like this one, too!
4. Something Real by Heather Demetrios
This one is a little different, as it deals with the aftermath of growing up in the spotlight. The main character was a child on a reality show that went off the air – something she was all too happy to leave behind. But after she’s finally learning how to cope with life as a normal teen, her family suddenly wants to bring the show back. A very interesting and unique take on child stardom.
5. The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
This is definitely a bit more difficult to read, particularly if you’re dealing with depression, but if you’re able, it’s so good. This story starts after the main character attempts suicide and follows her journey through recovery. And it doesn’t lie about how hard it is to get through something like that, which is one reason I love it. This book also happens to have one of my all-time favorite covers.
6. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
My last three picks are all by the same author, but she writes many well-done mental health books. This one in particular grabbed me for its dive into what it can be like to be family to an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD. Like The Astonishing Color of After, it’s nice to see a book where the main character is family to someone who is struggling, a good reminder that family of a struggling person need just as much support.
7. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
I will admit that not everyone likes this book as much as I do, but this is an interesting intersection of issues: eating disorders, hallucinations, and grief. I think it does a really great job at showing how multiple issues can be interconnected, and like The Memory of Light, it offers a realistic view of therapy while still ending on a hopeful note. I really appreciate that in my mental health fiction.
8. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I can’t end without mentioning this classic, award-winning book. Speak is the story of a high school girl in the aftermath of sexual assault and the way she must cope with what happened and with her classmates and the adults around her. As I said, this is definitely a classic, and it’s won its awards for a reason.
BONUS: All That Glimmers by Selina J. Eckert
This novella, releasing on May 15, is an exploration of grief and moving on, set in the fantasy world of contemporary Fae. Hallie is two years out from her best friend’s death, but she is determined to bring her back…especially when she finds a Fae secret that could mean putting her world back together again.
Whether you’ve struggled with mental health before or not, I hope this list gives you a strong set of reads for the month of May. If you’ve read any of these, please feel free to let me know what you thought of them in the comments. And if you have any other recommendations, let’s chat about them!
See you in the comments. ❤