Tired of the typical whacky YA (young adult) that portrays mental illness to be something salvageable by romantic love? It’s hard to find a YA book that realistically depicts one’s mental health struggles. I have found YA books using mental health more as a trope along with the classic first love story which has become repetitive. 

It’s important for us to have a deeper understanding of mental health rather than the one dimensionalized thing it’s portrayed as in most YA books.  It’s important to have a better representation of mental health because the audience can reinforce that representation into their personal lives. On the other hand, negative portrayal can be damaging to the audience because it leads them to believe mental health is imaginary and trivial. When authors don’t put past the stereotypes, people don’t reinforce that either. 

We need books that talk about how mental health impacts someone from a first-generation immigrant family, how mental health deteriorates in college, or dealing with mental health in a stigmatized surrounding. Or mental health discussion that stretches beyond the white narrative and talks about how it affects BIPOC people. I am tired of reading YA books that show mental health to be something salvageable by romantic love. Why not friendship? That’s more realistic to me.

This list is really important to me. While reading about mental health in books, I came across the same repetitive formulas used by YA authors. At one point, I grew tired of it and was looking for something hopeful that I could relate to and positively reinforce in my own life. So, I went above and beyond to find books that go past the stereotypical representation—not exaggerated and I could relate to.

Here is a list of YA books about mental health that offers much more than the usual first love trope and offers mental health discussion across diverse narratives. 

1. Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

[Image Description: The cover of 'Am I Normal Yet', by Holly Bourne.] Via Goodreads.
[Image Description: The cover of ‘Am I Normal Yet’, by Holly Bourne.] Via Goodreads.
Am I Normal Yet is a story about sixteen-year-old Evie’s long history of struggle with OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder as she navigates her life in college. Holly Bourne poignantly captures the teenage experience. The author doesn’t sensationalize her illness but gives the protagonist’s voice an authentic and coherent narrative.  You will find yourself relating to Evie’s struggle of overcoming her anxiety. 

2. It Only Happens In The Movies by Holly Bourne

[Image Description: It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne] Via Goodreads.
[Image Description: It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne] Via Goodreads.
Audrey finds herself falling in love with her fellow coworkers’ charm despite being cynical about love. This book is powerful and empowering and challenges all misogynistic notions. This book is more about self-exploration and is a must-read for everyone going through a mental health crisis or struggling hard to come to terms with their identity. Holly Bourne is definitely going to be your next favorite author! 

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3. Are We All Lemmings And Snowflakes? by Holly Bourne

[Image Description: Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes by Holly Bourne] Via Goodreads
[Image Description: Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes by Holly Bourne] Via Goodreads
“Because trying to use logic to explain anxiety is like using a banana to open a locked safe.”

Holly Bourne, Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes?

When it comes to challenging stereotypical notions in YA books, Holly Bourne brilliantly does it. Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes beautifully focuses on mental health and feminism. Holly Bourne is a wizard when it comes to portraying mental health in a more realistic light and giving a bold voice to the protagonist. You won’t find a more realistic and relatable read like this one. The author shows the daily struggles of living with anxiety and the roadblocks in overcoming it. A beautiful and hopeful read that positively portrays mental health!


4. Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

[Image Description: Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard] Via Goodreads.
[Image Description: Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard] Via Goodreads.
Beautiful Broken Things is a book by Sara Barnard about friendship, broken things, and mental health struggles. The author beautifully portrays the British life of these teenagers and depicts their mental health struggles with a strong narrative. Being a teenager, it’s a common phenomenon for mental health to impact the other aspects of your life. Sara Barnard shows how mental health affects friendships and life all while beautifully capturing the British teenager’s life. 

5. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter  by Erika L. Sánchez

[Image Description: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez] Via Goodreads.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is about a teenager’s story of navigating grief after her sister passed away. The struggles and trauma of a first-generation immigrant daughter are poignantly portrayed in this book. Learn firsthand how mental health impacts first-generation immigrant families. 

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6. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

[Image Description: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour] Via Goodreads.
[Image Description: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour] Via Goodreads.
We Are Okay is a short book but you will keep going back to it. Nina LaCour does an amazing job of showing how grief runs deep and how it affects friendship and relationships. This beautiful book teaches us how friendships can be a healing factor when struggling with mental health. Get the tissue boxes ready.  And the beautiful book cover will surely catch your eyes!

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7. How It Feels To Float by Helena Fox

[Image Description: How it feels to Float by Helena Fox] Via Goodreads.
This book beautifully explores the theme of grief, anxiety, and depression. Biz is a character you highly will relate to. If you have found yourself struggling to open up because of living in a stigmatized environment, you’ll find yourself relating hard. This book has made its place on this list for its accurate portrayal of PTSD, anxiety, and dissociative episodes. Biz’s struggles to open up about her mental health struggles are something a lot of us can relate to. This novel truly delivers and will have you crying for days. 

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8. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

 [Image Description: Made You Up] via Goodreads.
[Image Description: Made You Up] via Goodreads.
A heartbreaking story of a teenager struggling with schizophrenia. Made you Up gives you an in-depth understanding of what it’s like struggling to find the difference between real and imaginary. You will find yourself sympathizing with the main character and her day-to-day struggles of living with the illness. No other book has eloquently described the experiences of living with schizophrenia, like this one. You’ll find yourself pulled right into the protagonist’s struggles.

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9. It’s Kind Of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

[Image Description: It's kind of a funny story by Ned Vizzini] Via Goodreads.
[Image Description: It’s kind of a funny story by Ned Vizzini] Via Goodreads.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story talks about anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and depression in the most humorous and relatable way ever. This book is an ironic, insightful and intimate story of a teenager struggling with suicidal thoughts. It’s not always flowery and cheery. This book painfully shows what’s it like ideating suicidal thoughts. This book is as real as it can get. Thus, making it on our list.

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10. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Book cover of Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella.
[Image Description: Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella] Via Goodreads.
Audrey’s struggle with social anxiety and bullying might be relatable for a whole lot of people like me. Sophie Kinsella manages to write this relatable story and touch upon sensitive topics such as bullying and anxiety in a lighthearted manner which makes this novel more lovable. For someone who has struggled with bullying, I needed the protagonist’s energy for my own healing. This book is a must-read if you need some positive reinforcement in your life.

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11. Mosquitoland by David Arnold

[Image Description: Mosquitoland by David Arnold] Via Goodreads.
[Image Description: Mosquitoland by David Arnold] Via Goodreads.
If you haven’t read Mosquitoland this year then you are surely missing out on one of the best YA books in recent years. The book tells the story of Mim Malone who gets dragged to the wastelands of Mississippi after the collapse of her family. All of us have struggled with our identity at some point. We have found ourselves at the crossroad of difficult questions. Mim — the protagonist of this book — is going through her own journey of finding herself. Follow Mim along her tumultuous journey on finding her sanity and identity. This book will surely stay with you forever.

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12. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

[Image Description: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman] Via Goodreads.
[Image Description: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman] Via Goodreads.
If you haven’t read Alice Oseman’s work, you are seriously missing out on life. This book has its own fanbase. Radio Silence touches upon the theme of identity, self-exploration, and diversity. The characters are so vivid that they stay with you even after you finish the book. This compelling contemporary tells the story of Frances and Aled who live a double-life who struggle to be themselves. Find out how friendships can help you in your struggle to accept yourself.

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13. I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

Book cover of I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman.
[Image Description: I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman] Via Goodreads.
Another Alice Oseman book you should check out. Alice Oseman does a phenomenal job of creating vibrant characters whose energy lives on with you forever. You will get pulled right into Alice Oseman’s world of magic. This book has been called one of the best books on queer representation by fans. Find out how bonding over fandoms and being internet friends tears up Angel Rahimi’s life. Fandoms, Internet friends, Pop-Band, No Romance, Queer representation- this book is as good as it can get. 

14. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

[Image Description: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen] Via Goodreads.
[Image Description: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen] Via Goodreads.
This book deals with substance abuse in a realistic way. Substance abuse is something that isn’t widely discussed in YA books. But the author manages to realistically portray and give us an understanding of what’s it like struggling with it. Sarah Dessen crafts the story so beautifully that you will find yourself sympathizing with the main character. The story will surely touch your heart.

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I absolutely detest how authors put mental health right there with romance and use it as a plot—taking away its significance, all while claiming it to be a mental health YA. This is a uniquely crafted book recommendation list if you are looking to read something beyond the usual. You’ll find books with more nuanced narratives centering on mental health. This mental health awareness month, let’s learn to remove all the stigma surrounding mental health.

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  • Usraat Fahmidah

    Usraat Fahmidah is a freelance writer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her prose and fiction have been published in several anthologies and publications like WIRED. She has done extensive research in the field of development economics and policy research encompassing education. Her interests include South Asian politics, inclusive education, philosophy, civics media, feminism and AI ethics. Her journalistic work can be seen in VICE, Dhaka Tribune and Youth Journalism International. When she's not juggling all these work, you can find her ranting about books on her blog and finding muse for her next poetry piece.

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