I’ve talked a lot about my mixed feelings on mental illness rep here. But you know what I haven’t really spent enough time on? My favorite books with characters that have mental health issues. So here’s a post recommending a few of my all-time favorites.
My Favorite Books Focusing on Mental Illness
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, for a fabulous narrative around two character’s sexual / otherwise trauma, a great narrative around abuse, a major ownvoices disabled character who is an absolute badass but still realistically disabled, a character with dyslexia, and a character with ADHD. None of these characters are cured of any of their issues at any point :’)
- The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, for one fantastically portrayed abuse survivor and a suicide attempt survivor with a fantastic arc around depression. Neither of these arcs are tied to relationships.
- Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore – pretty much every main character has well-handled depression and trauma, but the best treatment is pertaining to the main character. She has a beautiful arc surrounding trauma and depression. This is part of a companion trio, and it’s better with books one and two, but it can definitely be read as a standalone. Definitely does not use love as a cure.
- Both A Monster Calls and More Than This by Patrick Ness – I’m pretty sure Patrick Ness has depression himself, given his excellent portrayals of the issues with it in his books. Both these books explore depression in a very real and tangible way. Also heard good things about Release, but haven’t read it quite yet. Can’t wait, though!
- Far From You by Tess Sharpe – the main character is a drug addict and works through it herself. Also, suspense with lgbt rep. Yeah, the mystery isn’t great, but I love Sophie more than my own life. This book deserves more attention.
- Exit Pursued By A Bear by E.K. Johnston – This book manages to be quite optimistic despite being about the aftermath of rape. There’s no romance, there’s a real focus on friendship… it’s awesome. Definitely worth the read.
- The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee – The disability rep here is just done perfectly. There’s a real focus on avoiding the cure narrative and loving people with their disabilities, not “despite”.
- Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – There’s so much I loved about this. The acknowledgement of Alex’s agency as a mentally ill person balances perfectly with the acknowledgement that mental illness is a struggle and not a quirk. I also loved that Alex is not cured. She starts the book with schizophrenia, and she ends the book with schizophrenia.
- Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia – This book has a great focus on anxiety without becoming a book about anxiety, and it definitely does not become a book about anxiety being cured. I also loved the focus on internet friends and the relevance of teenagers’ feeling.
- Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King – This book is about how teenagers, and especially abuse survivors, can be dismissed. The discussion on abuse is especially relevant.
- Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios – This is an ownvoices exploration of abuse, and holy GOD, is it good.
- The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky – I really connected to this character and his arc. This book is just fucking fabulous.
Not Toxic, Although Not Quite Faves
- Odd and True by Cat Winters – I loved the casual disability representation here feeling both realistic and healthy. Tru does need a brace, and it does restrain parts of her life, but the narrative emphasizes that she’s not a lesser person because of it. There’s a moment where Tru writes a letter to a younger disabled girl telling the girl how she’ll grow up to succeed. I loved this moment; it’s so small, but it made me so happy.
- Where She Went by Gayle Forman – This book does a surprisingly good job exploring depression and grief without making it something romantic or beautiful. Adam has suffered from depression. It’s not beautiful.
- This Is Not A Test by Courtney Summers – This was another book recommended by DisabilityInKidsLit, and I totally agree with their thoughts. This is a zombie apocalypse novel following a girl who is suicidal.
- Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde – Great representation of both anxiety and autism in a fun contemporary novel. I believe it’s actually ownvoices for both.
- Run by Kody Keplinger – Character and friendship driven! Follows a bi abuse survivor and a blind character as they run from their old life. No romance!! Ownvoices for blind rep!! Really good!!
- Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman – A book about schizophrenia with no romance and a focus on recovery and a collaboration with Neal’s son, making the book ownvoices? Sign me up. And yes, it was just as good as expected.
- Perfect by Natasha Friend – Follows eating disorders. Again, no romance!! And a focus on friendship!! It’s more middle-grade, but whatever. This book is positive and emotionally real and fabulous.
Let me know if any of you have other recs or books that explored the narrative well for you!!