World Mental Health Day 2015 – Some Books to Try

Suffering from a mental illness is a terrifying experience. To the outside world, it seems trivial, harmless and invisible, but to those of us suffering, it’s anything but. And it isn’t just an illness of the mind – It can cause all kinds of physical effects too. 1 in 5 Young People are now being diagnosed with some form of mental health problems, from generalised anxiety and depression, to eating disorders and schizophrenia, and there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to what to expect from these illnesses. Stigma and misunderstanding, confusion and fear, are all rife when it comes to understanding mental illnesses, and I’ve always found that the best way to understand something is to read about people in down to Earth, sensitive and respectable Fiction and Biographical accounts. So as last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d throw together a list of fantastic YA and Teen Fiction titles that either deal with, or have characters who suffer from, mental health problems. Many of these have helped me in the past, and I’d love to know that they’ll go on to help others. People with these illnesses aren’t monsters – they’re not crazy, dangerous lunatics – they’re people struggling with an invisible, but deadly disease.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

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Themes – Depression, Suicidal Thoughts, Eating Disorders, Anxiety

Inspired by the author’s own experiences of hospitalisation for depression, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a brilliant mix of genuinely sharp humour and honest, heartfelt emotion that absolutely buzzes in the words he writes. Vizzini’s tragic death at just 32 years old makes the impact of these book painfully real.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Themes – Depression, Suicide, Identity

The quintessential book when it comes to main characters with depression, Plath’s only novel is beautifully haunting and poetic and while it’s dated in some ways, the feelings at the heart of it remain as current and relatable as ever. The book touches on how the pressures of adult life can weigh heavily on young people, and ultimately has a hopeful tone to it.

 

All Of The Above by Juno Dawson

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Themes – Eating Disorders, Self-Harm

Juno’s first contemporary novel is by far her most diverse, intelligent and emotionally articulate offering to date. It examines the stresses and pressures that teenagers and young people go through in a chaotic, messy and heartfelt way, never pulling any punches, but always holding your hand, it looks at how people can hide things about themselves and how there is no definitive normal.

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Themes – Depression, Suicidal Thoughts, Self-Harm

A wonderful, heart stopping, devastating and uplifting book, All the Bright Places is a beautiful tale of friendship and love told alongside some dark, complex themes, all in a sensitive and intelligent way. The words crackle with energy on the page, and the characters are wonderfully real and relatable.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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Themes – OCD, Depression, Eating Disorders

Not out until later this year, but I can already tell you that Patrick Ness continues to be one of the finest YA writers working today. In The Rest of Us, our narrator Mikey suffers from near crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, frequently washing his hands until they bleed. Patrick paints his own self-loathing honestly, tackling the concept that OCD is synonymous with being neat head on with a sledgehammer of truth. He also touches on eating disorders with a secondary character, and really captures the helplessness and hopelessness that sufferers of these illnesses can feel.

When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan

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Themes – Tourette’s Syndrome, Bullying

Shortlisted for this year’s Carnegie Medal for Children’s Fiction, When Mr. Dog Bites is one of the very very few books out there that looks at what it means to live with Tourette’s Syndrome, an often over looked and woefully misunderstood illness. Naturally, it’s rude and funny in places, but it’s also it bristles with an honest energy and has a brilliantly open and genuinely well-intentioned main character.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

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Themes – Depression, Suicide, Eating Disorders

Alice’s debut novel is one of my favourite YA books of all time, and her drive to be inclusive is what makes her book stand out so well. Tory’s brother, Charlie, suffers from a number of mental health problems, highlighting that these things often aren’t as simple as the media makes them out to be. His anorexia is sensitively handled and I feel like having a male character suffer from an eating disorder is so important to have in fiction, and his relationship with his sister is absolutely wonderful. He’s a sensitive, intelligent young person who struggles with the harshness of the world, and Alice never lets him become a stereotype.

Heroic by Phil Earle

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Themes – PTSD

Phil Earle is one of the best unsung writers in Teen and YA literature, purely because of just how well he manages to capture the anger and confusion of teen life. Heroic is looks at friendship, the relationships between brothers and the dark and upsetting effects Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can have, not just of sufferers, but on their families too. This book is hauntingly real and gritty, but from there is its power, to overcome the darkness of the everyday and reach the light that we can find in each other. His characters are brilliantly created, snappy and intelligent, and by writing from two perspectives, we get a fully layered and complex look at a harrowing condition.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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Themes – Suicide, PTSD

Without any spoilers, I will just say that Perks is one of my favourite ever books ever ever. It made a huge difference for me in my life, and Charlie is the music obsessed, shy and sensitive young man I needed to read about. It’s a book that teaches that it’s okay to be who you are, that gender stereotypes are dumb, and that through each other, we can overcome even the most horrifying events. The way Stephen Chbosky flashes back through Charlie’s life in this book is haunting and gripping all at once.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Themes – Social Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder

Fangirl is a sweet story of love, friendship and coming of age that also works in an underexplored and worryingly misunderstood condition – social anxiety. In an age where everyone can be in contact with one another without ever actually having to see those people physically, Rainbow works it into Cath’s character without being dismissive or painting it too lightly. She also makes sure that we know it’s okay to be shy, to need space or prefer to be alone, and in doing so, she creates a character that is so easy to relate to, in a sweet novel that’s already becoming a massive bestseller.

Other recommended titles:

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (Depression)

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Suicide, Depression)

Panther by David Owen (Depression)

Every Day by David Levithan (Depression)

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green/David Levithan (Depression)

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle (PTSD)

A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook/Brendan Halpin (Eating Disorders)

Butter by Erin Lange (Eating Disorders)

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Eating Disorders)

Hello Darkness by Anthony McGowan (Psychosis)

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dallaira (Depression)

You can find more on this fab list on Goodreads too.

Part of the best way for us to tackle to misconceptions and stigmas that surround these illnesses is to talk about them, and share our own experiences as well as stories like the ones I’ve talked about here. These books aren’t just for those of us who struggle with these things every single day, they’re also for the people who have never had to cry when they wake up, who don’t know what it’s like to struggle with thoughts and feelings that can’t be controlled, and who can’t put themselves into those lives. Empathy is the key to humanity, and we all need to do our best to understand and care for one another.

Or something like that, anyway. I ain’t a great philosopher, I just read a lot of books.

Obviously, many of these books will contain triggers/upsetting scenes, so please always do some research and never be afraid to stop reading something that’s upsetting you.

If you need someone to talk to, The Samaritans are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to just listen, and never judge.

Thanks for Reading. I hope you find a book that helps.

D

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If You Like John Green, Clap Your Hands!

So, today a blog post I wrote was plopped up on the Waterstones Blog, which is VERY exciting for me. But I thought I best double post it to my own blog too… Basically, the big John Green trend is only gaining momentum right now, and I’m trying to ride the wave and get some fantastic authors who write similar (dare I say, better) contemporary YA Fiction.

Okay, so the very worst thing imaginable has come to pass. You’ve always known it. It was inevitable really. As you turn that final page of An Abundance of Katherines, you come to the heavy hearted realisation that you’ve polished off the mighty John Green’s backlist.

You may as well just give up on books altogether, right?

Have no fear, Nerdfighters! Look hard enough, and other, brilliantly talented authors will reveal themselves to you, spinning stories with the same John-Green style mix of tragedy, wonder, heartache and witty, rich dialogue. Or, if you don’t fancy looking all that hard, why not try any one of these certified GREAT books, jam packed full of contemporary romance with that wry twist?

EVERY DAY by David Levithan

A Fantastic, Vibrant YA Novel.

A Fantastic, Vibrant YA Novel.

If the name David Levithan rings an immediate bell, it could be because he’s one half of the writing duo behind Will Grayson, Will Grayson, along with John Green himself. It might also be because he’s been writing powerful, emotionally driven Teen and Young Adult Fiction for around twenty years or so – And Every Day is one of his biggest triumphs. Telling the story of A, an individual who spends life inhabiting the body of another human being for just one day, it’s a unique, funny and touching look at the trials and troubles of Teen life, written with a distant, but sympathetic eye. Whilst in the body of a dumb young jock-type named Justin however, A breaks the rule of non-interference by falling madly in love with Justin’s girlfriend, the sensitive but downtrodden Rhiannon. Once their perfect day together is over, A is ripped from Justin’s body, but remains resolutely determined to reunite with his twenty-four hour love. Every Day follows the struggle of A’s journey to be with Rhiannon, despite the body-switching obstacle, but it also weaves in a much darker undertone, as A starts to use the daily possession of others in a much more selfish manner. As people start to wake up miles from their homes, getting into accidents they can’t explain, the religious right start to target A as an agent of the Devil, and A has no defence against them whatsoever… Who’s to say they’re wrong?

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell is one to watch.

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell is one to watch.

So, I’m pretty sure a lot of John Green fans will be familiar with Rainbow Rowell already, but just in case you aren’t: Rainbow is a multi-award winning writer from the States, who has written three novels to date (with a fourth, Landline, due in July), and who is lucky enough to have Mr. Green himself as a personal ambassador to her work, spreading work far and wide on the internet bloggersphere. Fangirl is Rowell’s third book, and her second aimed at the YA audience (after 2012’s spectacular Eleanor & Park), and it focuses on the online fandoms that many of us are all too familiar with. Twin sisters Cath and Wren spent most of their teens obsessed with the fictional book character Simon Snow, and reading about him, posting on forums about him and getting lost in their own fan fiction was the only way they managed to survive the ordeal of their mother leaving them. When the sisters head off for College, Wren drifts away from the Fangirl life, leaving Cath in way over her head, in a world of roommates, classes, boys and fast approaching adulthood, and her only solace is in the forums and blogs of the Simon Snow. These people understand her, the stories are ones she knows and the characters are old friends. That’s all she thinks she needs to get by in life. Fangirl approaches ideas of isolation and the terrifying onset of grown-up-dom in a funny, accessible and really familiar way, touching on issues of abandonment and mental health along the way. It’s a well rounded mix of humour and heartache that should make any John Green fan smile.

WHY WE BROKE UP by Daniel Handler

Beautiful Illustrations and Words.

Beautiful Illustrations and Words.

Ever heard of Daniel Handler? Sure you have. No, honestly, odds are you’ve read one of his series for younger readers. You see, Mr. Handler’s wickedly dark sense of humour gave birth to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. See, I told you you’d heard of him. Why We Broke Up is a beautiful, breathtaking short novel of heartbreak and love. Min Green is breaking up with Ed Slaterton, but rather than telling him why, she gives him a box of objects that show him why – objects that mark points in their relationship that lead to where they are today. Using a brilliantly Green-esque sense of wit and warmth, combined with some superbly simple and gorgeous illustrations from Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up is a punchy collection of emotions, ranging from the giddy euphoria of first love, to the bitter devastation of when everything falls apart, remaining optimistic and touching throughout.

IN BLOOM by Matthew Crow

This jacket is wonderfully 90's.

This jacket is wonderfully 90’s.

A young UK author with a brilliant sense of humour, Matthew Crow is someone you should really already know about. In Bloom is the story of the self-certified brilliant poet and intellectual Francis, who sees himself as a wasted in the boring, culture drained world of the North East of England as he learns that he has leukaemia. It’s a story of teenage isolation that’s much closer to home than Mr. Green, with a melodramatic lead character who’s funny, thoughtful and who develops brilliantly as the book goes on, learning and growing from an arrogant young teen, into an emotionally mature young man. Equal parts wit and tragedy, In Bloom is a blossoming and engaging story that is a must read for anyone who’s loved John Green’s blend of wry humour and heartbreaking self discovery, but much more grounded. Francis is a lonely, isolated character – one who struggles to relate to the people around him, but despite this, his supporting cast are funny, touching and fully realised human beings. Amber, Francis’ fellow patient, is one of the most vibrant and exciting characters I’ve ever read in a book and Francis’ Mum is a complete force of love and anger all at once. In Bloom made me cry twice in one day, both times happened when I was sitting on the train to work – but it also made me smile and laugh out loud at a number of points throughout, which showcases the author’s dry wit and emotional talents rather excellently, I think.

FOLLOW ME DOWN by Tanya Byrne

A tense, intelligent thriller.

A tense, intelligent thriller.

What should you read next, a dark, twisting thriller, or an intelligent, wryly humoured high school drama? Follow Me Down manages to be equal parts both, and equal parts fantastic in the process. Set in a private all girls school in the South of England, Follow Me Down follows the story of Adamma, a student in her final year at Crofton Hall, as she tackles love, lessons and the disappearance of her overdramatic, determined to be the centre of the attention, best friend Scarlett. Everyone at Crofton knows Adamma and Scarlett have been vying for the same male attention, and the well off Scarlett has been known to abscond to try and get her way. But Adamma knows her friend better than anyone could, and she knows that this vanishing isn’t a cry for attention, but something much more sinister. Follow Me Down’s plot has more twists and turns than most other teen novels, but what really makes it stand above the crowd is the use of language. Tanya Byrne is an amazing writer who can write the darkest passages with a strange, dreamy poetic style, all punctuated by dry pop culture references and sarcastic witticisms. It’s one of those books that kept me guessing right up until the last page, and a book that made that last page something that I had to reach, and yet dreaded reaching at the same time, because it would mean this wonderfully well realised world of rich, exciting characters would be gone. Except it isn’t… Follow Me Down stays with you long after you finish.

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

Utterly Captivating.

Utterly Captivating.

This book arrived in Waterstones stores up and down the country a few months before release, and caused a massive burst of hysterical hype throughout the bookseller community. A plain white book with single sentence reviews from John Green, Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld, and a helpline for people to call when they finished the book. I think that tells you a lot of what you need to know. We Were Liars follows the complex, drama filled lives of the high flying Sinclair family, who spend their summer each year vacationing on their own private island, and Cadence, the eldest grandchild of the wealthy, powerful dynasty. Cadence spends a year away from the island, and when she returns, the Sinclair way of life is tense, tight and strained, her cousins and aunts refusing to acknowledge the strange morose tone that has crept into their seemingly perfect existence. Cadence becomes determined to find out what has thrown the delicate balance of her family, and in doing so she discovers a horrific tragedy that gradually unravels her own sense of mental stability. We Were Liars is a decadent, powerful book, filled with grandiose metaphors and esoteric, winding mystery that begs to be uncovered, using fairytales and subtle double meanings to tease the reader further into the gleaming and off-perfect world of the Sinclairs, like a beautiful apple with a rotten core.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher

Bleak, Harsh & Brilliant.

Bleak, Harsh & Brilliant.

Clay Jensen receives a shoebox full of cassette tapes. They were sent to him by fellow High School student Hannah Baker, his classmate whom he was infatuated with, who recently committed suicide. The tapes list the reasons Hannah fell into the hopelessly dark depression that led to her taking her own life, and Clay is one of them. Throughout the novel, we’re given a bleak, brutally honest analysis of mental illness and the severely dark, bullying atmosphere of high school life. Despite the book’s frank and stripped bare style, it still manages to be beautiful in its style, full of emotional pitfalls and unexpected shocks – It manages to be haunting, staying with you for weeks, months… In fact, I’ve not managed to ever get it out of my head, seven years from reading it. Thirteen Reasons Why is a vitally important glimpse into the inner workings of human beings, their social interactions, and the irreversible consequences of our actions. To say it’s a book that makes you think is the understatement of the decade.

FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by Matthew Quick

Not for the faint of heart.

Not for the faint of heart.

Matthew Quick garnered serious critical acclaim with his novel Silver Linings Playbook, but his look at Highschool Student Leonard Peacock is by far a darker offering. Telling the story of a student as he says goodbye to the four closest people in his life, on his birthday, Leonard Peacock plans on shooting his former best friend in school, and then shooting himself. The book follows the four goodbyes the title character makes, each one delving into the troubled young man’s mind, giving the reader a strange, empathetic insight into his fractured psyche. As with Quick’s other work, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a dark, but oddly endearing book, ultimately honest and unflinching in the way it looks at how our decisions not only shape us, but also shape the lives of people around us. It’s a desperately compelling book with a sense of inevitability that drags the reader unrelentingly forward towards a horrifying, but inevitable conclusion. Leonard’s character development takes the reader through a complex array of emotions as they try to understand the dark plans in his mind, as well as the love and positivity of his outlook towards those he cares about most.

TROUBLE by Non Pratt

What a JACKET.

What a JACKET.

With a jacket that screams for attention, Trouble by UK based author Non Pratt has already started to gain a lot of praise. Hannah is a high school student who gets pregnant after an encounter with her ex-best friend. Feeling abandoned and alone, scared in a situation that she cannot see a way through, she turns to transfer student Aaron, who not only supports her throughout the pregnancy, but who also offers to help dampen the torrent of school ground gossip – By pretending to be the father of her unborn child. What follows is a cringingly embarrassing teen comedy with so much heart that it fills the reader’s chest to bursting with emotion. Non manages to juggle heartbreaking honesty and touching friendship with a depth and a lightness that you wouldn’t believe without reading it yourself. It really is an endearing book that wears its heart on its sleeve, with no shame in any of the mistakes the characters make, and by using a dual perspective (told from both Hannah and Aaron’s viewpoints), it manages to shape the situations and delve into the miscommunications in a very clever, very necessary way, giving the author and reader the chance to explore the troubles and fears of both characters who are in way over their heads.

AMY & ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR by Morgan Matson

A delightfully bright, feel good book.

A delightfully bright, feel good book.

Ending on a happier note than some of the other books on this list, Amy &Roger’s Epic Detour is a fantastically well put together romance novel that follows Amy Curry, as she tries to get her life back on track after her Dad’s death, starting with a road trip across the United States. Unfortunately, she’s forced to share her journey of self discovery with Roger, the son of one of her Mother’s friends, who she hasn’t seen in years. Throughout the constant bickering and in-fighting, the two teens begin to develop feelings for one another, despite their differences. Together, the two of them learn a lot about themselves, and manage to help each other deal with their family life and other dramas. The book itself is written in a funny, sarcastic, yet beautiful style, but it uses some fantastic narrative devices that make it really fun to read, and makes it stand out from the crowd when it comes to romance novels. Using Postcards, Receipts from roadside diners, napkins and other collected memorabilia from the pair’s road trip, Morgan manages to make the story so vibrant and exciting, as well as touching, really evoking the feelings of long summer evenings and deep, meaningful chats with best friends. It’s a feel good book that reads like nothing else, with funny, sometimes annoying, but always well written characters that you’ll fall in love with.

 

SO, there’s some to keep you going! If you want anymore tips of great YA books, feel free to give me a shout on Twitter.

The Original Waterstones Blog Post is available here. I spelled Matson’s name wrong because I’m terrible.

Thanks for reading!

D