5 Young Adult Novels That Nail Mental Illness Perfectly

Some of the best YA works to showcase mental illness.

5 young adult books about mental illness

There are so many underrated young adult books that portray mental illness in honest, poetic ways. If you ever needed a taste of that reality, then take a look at the characters within the novels that appear on this list—all of whom deal with everyday challenges.

In these five novels, you’ll read stories that candidly explain the phenomenon of what it’s really like to feel not in control of your own daily life due to the debilitating struggles that certain sicknesses present.

A note from Editor-in-chief: We take mental illness and its effects on everyday lives very seriously and do not wish to offend or trigger any of our readers with the content we provide. Thank you for your strength, courage and resilience—we love you all!

1. All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven

Synopsis: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. – Goodreads

Why this is included on my list: This novel talks about the problems people face when they are depressed, but find someone who can make them happy. It is nice to see these two teenagers such as Theodore and Violet save each other from a life in depression. Suicide is not talked about enough as it should, and this book brings that subject to light in Jennifer Niven‘s endearing tale.

2. Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher

Synopsis: The #1 New York Times bestseller and modern classic that’s been changing lives for a decade gets a gorgeous revamped cover and special additional content.
“You can’t stop the future.”
“You can’t rewind the past.”
“The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.”

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever. – Goodreads

Why this book is on my list: This book perfectly describes the consequence of bullying. Actions matter, and so when Hannah sends tapes to every single person who had something to do with her suicide, the result may be more than the culprits can handle. Thirteen Reasons Why will make you seriously reevaluate your actions, and they way you treat those around you.

3. Paperweight, Meg Haston

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Stevie is trapped. In her life. And now in an eating-disorder treatment center on the dusty outskirts of the New Mexico desert.

Life in the center is regimented and intrusive, a nightmare come true. Nurses and therapists watch Stevie at mealtime, accompany her to the bathroom, and challenge her to eat the foods she’s worked so hard to avoid.

Her dad has signed her up for sixty days of treatment. But what no one knows is that Stevie doesn’t plan to stay that long. There are only twenty-seven days until the anniversary of her brother Josh’s death—the death she caused. And if Stevie gets her way, there are only twenty-seven days until she too will end her life. – Goodreads

Why this book is on my list: Eating disorders need to be discussed in young adult literature, and I thank Meg Haston for portraying this subject so beautifully in Paperweight. People need to know what it is like to live with an eating disorder. After seeing what Stevie had to go through when she goes to treatment for her illness, Haston’s work becomes a real eye-opener for the reader. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know exactly what it’s like to suffer from bullimia.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

I was tagged for the #bookswithmusic tag 🎧 by @azriela.moone I've been listening to Ben Howard's album Every Kingdom which is a gem of an album! I've had his album for ages but I never fully listened to it until recently. If you like guitar-y acoustic, then I think you'll like this album 😉 I liked it so much that I illustrated the lyrics from the song keep your head up 🖌 ___________________________________________ #book #books #bookblogger #bookstagram #instabook #booknerd #bookworm #bookish #bookstagrammer #bookstagramfeature #bibliophile #bookporn #booklover #igreads #ya #yalit #booksofinstagram #read #youngadult #flatlay #flatlayoftheday #stripes #hm #theperksofbeingawallflower #stephenchbosky #succulents #copper #musiclyrics #benhoward

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Synopsis: The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. – Goodreads

Why this book is on my list: The Perks of Being a Wallflower has left such an impression in YA literature. Chbosky’s work delves deep inside being a victim of sexual assault, and the upshot it has on someone’s life. Not only was this a stunning novel, but the movie of the same name was just as poignant.

5. Girl in Pieces, Kathleen Glasgow

😭 I went back to the book to find a quote to add here and within a few bookmarks had my heart handed to me. This #book is so soul crashing! Gosh… I'm in pain now. Excuse me while I sit here in despair for a little while! … "We were lost in a storm/The clouds gathered ahead/You were crying to me/All the pain in your heart/I tried to give you/Sad girl/All the love I had left/But when push comes to shove/I'm as empty as the rest." Riley to Charlie Everytime I go back to this book I feel more "shitty" about my first review of it. It deserves a lot more respect than what I first gave. The lack of a happy ending sucked the life out of me at the time, I was so confused by it. Now, almost a month later, that same feeling shows me how bloody brilliant the author is! Within two pages I was transported back to the pain in Charlie's and Riley's life… It's sad, very sad. But VERY worth reading too!!!! #girlinpieces by #kathleenglasgow … #tbpnovember16 #marleyreadsnov16

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Synopsis: Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge. – Goodreads

Why this book is on my list: Girl in Pieces expresses what it’s like having to live with depression, and the only way Charlotte learns to cope with her pain is through self-harm, relieving her sadness by cutting herself. This book deserves its place on this list for truly exploring the mindset of a character who believes self-harm is the only way to communicate their grief.

Which YA books do you think tackle mental illness perfectly?

Share some of your favorites with us in the comments below!
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Written by Jessica Duffield

I am a sophomore in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate.