May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Celebrate the month (and take a break from your AP exam studying) with these great Young Adult reads. Each of these books discusses an area of mental health or mental illness.
John Green's latest Young Adult novel, Turtles All the Way Down explores the struggles and questions of living a life with anxiety. The book's protagonist, sixteen-year-old Aza, deals with those struggles and questions while also navigating high school, relationships, and, more recently, a mystery involving the disappearance of a local billionaire. This book does an excellent job of describing what managing anxiety and intrusive thoughts feels like.
Maureen Johnson's novel Truly Devious stars protagonist Stevie Bell, an intelligent young woman with both a passion for true crime and difficulties with anxiety. Stevie travels to Vermont to attend the remote Ellingham Academy, a private school built especially for gifted and curious students like herself. This novel combines a discussion of mental health with mystery, suspense, and the eccentricity you might expect to find in a geographically-isolated private school for talented teenagers. That combination makes for a great read if you're looking for a book that touches on mental health issues without making them the central plot line.
In Ned Vizzini's novel It's Kind of a Funny Story, protagonist Craig Gilner has gotten into his dream school. He studied hard, passed the entrance exam, and now that he's enrolled? Craig finds himself under a mountain of stress, unable to adjust to the pressures of his new school, and struggling with depression. After a near-suicidal incident, Craig gets checked into a hospital's mental ward, which is where the book's "funny story" truly takes off. Vizzini's book is an authentic, honest portrayal of mental health struggles, as well as a genuinely entertaining read.
Francesca Zappia's novel Eliza and her Monsters follows the journey of Eliza Mirk, socially awkward teenager and anonymous creator of a popular webcomic. As Eliza struggles to balance her conflicting online and offline lives, the stress builds, and then so does the anxiety. With a hopeful message and lovely artwork, Eliza and her Monsters is a must-read. This book will leave you feeling inspired and maybe even ready to battle your own personal monsters. (And if you like this one, Zappia's debut novel Made You Up would also make for an excellent read during Mental Health Awareness Month.)
In Highly Illogical Behavior, John Corey Whaley tells what happens when two very different lives collide. Solomon suffers from agoraphobia and panic attacks, and refuses to leave his house. Lisa is trying to get into a prestigious psychology program, and hopes that a college essay about how she's helped Solomon overcome his fears will serve as her ticket in. When they meet, both of their lives change. Funny and intriguing, Highly Illogical Behavior touches on the themes of mental health issues, friendship and trust.
In Patrick Ness' novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here, there are Chosen Ones. There are vampires. There are supernatural beings. But protagonist Mikey isn't any of those things; he's just a teenager trying to get to graduation, and trying to manage his OCD. This book's premise makes it an unusual, funny read, and its discussion of mental health issues earns it a place on this list as a quality read for Mental Health Awareness Month.