books surrounding trauma, abuse, or mental health – recs

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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!!

15 thoughts on “books surrounding trauma, abuse, or mental health – recs

    1. i’ve spent like ten minutes trying to figure out if you’re one of those people who calls everyone special snowflakes or if you genuinely think something in this post is ableist but either way lmao

      if you think I said something wrong, DM me and tell me. don’t hide behind anon comments linking back to an article on being creepy. that’s not calling out ableism – that’s just being an asshole.

      and if you’re one of those i-hate-special-snowflakes people, try putting yourself in other people’s shoes for once. or maybe realize you’re not special for being neurotypical 🙂


  1. I loved Made You Up and Far From You! I’ve read them back this year and they really surprised me (so much I knew I had to pick up their other novels 💕).
    This was such a great post with so many great books😊.

    Liked by 1 person

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