Mental illness has long been a heavily stigmatised topic, but these six books will help those suffering understand their own illnesses, because everyone’s story deserves a place on the shelves.
My Heart And Other Black Holes – Jasmine Warga
Depressed 16-year-old Aysel Seran is obsessed with planning her own death. After all, she has nothing to live for – her father murdered their small town’s star athlete, her mother can’t even look at her without wincing, and she’s alienated by her peers at school because of what her dad did. But she’s unsure if she can go through with committing suicide alone, so she turns to Suicide Partners where she meets Roman, a teenage boy haunted by his own family tragedy. As they begin to fill each other’s broken lives, Aysel starts to reconsider their suicide pact, but can she save Roman when he’s so determined to die?
Why it’s important: Utilising cleverly created layered characters, this book deftly demonstrates how just because someone is seen smiling, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be depressed. But perhaps the most important message Jasmine Warga tries to drive home at the end of the book is that whoever you are, no matter what has happened to you, there is always a way to escape the arduous tunnel of sadness; and that even at the very end, no one is ever really all alone.
Challenger Deep – Neal Shusterman
Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student but he is also slowly losing his grip on reality – unable to focus on anything, constantly needing to walk and believing that a kid at school wants to kill him. In his gradual descent into schizophrenia, Caden thinks he is on a ship bound for Challenger Deep, the deepest place on Earth. While receiving treatment at Seaview Memorial Hospital, Caden slowly begins to come out from his illness. But tragedy strikes when his roommate attempts suicide by slitting his wrists and that experience causes Caden to reel mentally, and thus begins his struggle to claw his way back to the top.
Why it’s important: At times difficult to read but yet extremely compelling and hard to resist, Challenger Deep is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of those dealing with schizophrenia, in part due to Neal Shusterman’s personal experience with the illness through his son’s battle with the illness. Throughout the book, there are also illustrations penned by his son, many of which were drawn during the worst of his illness, giving the book a more powerful and genuine tone that will allow readers a deeper understanding into the illness.
Bad Romance – Heather Demetrios
With an abusive stepfather and an obsessive-compulsive mother, Grace can’t wait to get out of her house. When she falls in love with charismatic and talented Gavin, who also promises to keep her safe, she believes that she has found a new home with him. That is until he turned controlling and possessive, demanding that she give up her friends and threatening suicide if they ever break up. Caught between a rock and a very hard place, Grace will have to figure out a way to escape a “prison” she never thought she’d be caught up in.
Why it’s important: Emotional abuse in any relationship – friendships included, is one of the most damaging experiences a person can go through, as it’s coming from some of the people we love the most. It’s easy to judge someone for staying in an abusive relationship, but as this book deftly illustrates, red flags are never easily to notice especially when they’re wrapped under the guise of toxic manipulation.
Girl In Pieces – Kathleen Glasgow
Charlotte Davis may only be 17 years old, but she’s already lost more than most people lose in their lifetime – her father drowned himself, her abusive mother kicked her out of her home and her best friend’s lying in hospital brain dead. But she’s learned how to deal: she cuts, with each new scar washing away the pain until she feels nothing but calm. After spending some time in treatment, Charlotte heads for Tucson to be closer to Mikey – a boy she “like-likes” but who just wants to be friends. Rejected, she gets drawn into a destructive new relationship with her junkie alcoholic co-worker, and soon finds herself spiraling down her rabbit hole once again.
Why it’s important: Self-harm has quickly became one of the more prevalent issues stemming from mental illnesses in teenagers, with more and more cases being reported over the years. This evocative yet poignant story details how a young life can become so derailed that they turn to “writing their pain on their bodies” and the sheer effort needed for those suffering to change paths and piece themselves together.
Under Rose Tainted Skies – Louise Gornall
Struggling with agoraphobia, a condition that causes her to believe that the outside world is too big and too dangerous, Norah Dean hasn’t left her house for the last four years after experiencing a severe anxiety attack at school. Since then, she’s been getting by just fine within the confines of her home, but her solitude’s upended when she notices dreamy new boy-next-door, Luke. He doesn’t define Norah by her medical condition, but instead sees her as funny, smart and brave. As they grow closer, Norah realises Luke deserves someone normal, someone who isn’t so screwed up like her…
Why it’s important: Whenever we come across someone dealing with mental health issues, we often find ourselves not being able to understand how the seemingly easiest of tasks can seem like a mountain for them to conquer. Written in refreshing first-person narrative, Louise Gornall paints a realistic and engaging portrait of a teen struggling to face her demons.
The Thing With Feathers – McCall Hoyle
Having suffered from epilepsy throughout her life, Emilie Day believes in playing it safe. She’s home-schooled, spends all her spare time reading and her best friend is her therapy dog. She’s also reluctant to engage with strangers. Forced by her mum to attend classes at the local high school, Emilie makes a promise to herself to stay aloof, though she finds it hard to stay distant and self-contained when she starts making friends. But Emilie has a problem: she hasn’t told anyone at school about her epilepsy.
Why it’s important: While primarily dealing with the effects of epilepsy, this coming-of-age story also delves into how physical health issues can affect your mental state, centering around how Emilie feels burdened by the obligation of having to explain to all of her new friends what they need to do and watch out for if she ever experiences a seizure. But at the end of it all, it shows readers that while they might have an ‘invisible’ disability, that it shouldn’t hinder them from doing whatever they want to do.