“Invisible Illnesses” in YA


Year Twelve is not off to a good start for Amelia. Art is her world, but her art teacher hates everything she does; her best friend has stopped talking to her; her mother and father may as well be living in separate houses; and her father is slowly forgetting everything. Even Amelia.

In the last couple of years, the number of YA novels that contain characters with mental illnesses or unseen disorders, or revolve around similar themes, have increased twofold. It’s impossible to walk into a bookstore without seeing a novel on the shelves about a person’s battle against depression or anxiety, but finding books about Alzheimers is a little more difficult to find. Before You Forget candidly portrays what it’s like to lose someone in your family to this physically invisible disease and to see their memory of you degrade into fragments of what they once were. But this raw and gritty novel not only discusses and shows what it’s like to see someone you love battle with Alzheimers — it also shows what it’s like to see your best friend struggle with an eating disorder and feel useless against this invisible illness that plagues their mind and makes it difficult to see yourself as a person worthy of not just the sustenance needed to survive, but also how food nourishes and soothes. Before You Forget is a tragic but uplifting book about loss, art, and how you cope when the whole world is shattering around you.

Alzheimer’s Disease

As I touched on before, the protagonist’s father in Before You Forget suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, and watching his mental state deteriorate and his memory of his family crumble was really heartbreaking to see. The way in which his condition was portrayed and the way it took over more and more of his mind throughout the novel felt exceptionally real, and in that way it made it hard to read some of these parts. His shifts in emotions and the way he couldn’t remember some things and acted ‘strangely’ felt as though the author had researched the effects of Alzheimer’s so in-depth, and therefore Before You Forget isn’t just an heart-breaking, compelling novel — it’s one that everyone can learn from and read more about the seemingly invisible illness that preys on so many people each year.

Here’s another book that revolves Alzheimer’s Disease. My list is pretty sparse in this area, so if you have any other recommendations, please let me know!

Eating Disorders

When I picked up Before You Forget, I never really expected that there would be such a weight placed on eating disorders. The protagonist’s best friend suffers from anorexia / restrictive eating, and we see her progress from eating ‘healthier’ and denying too many sugary options to denying herself of wholesome food altogether. This part of the narrative could be very triggering for some people, as well as quite confronting. But at the same time, I think that because this aspect was written in such a candid, raw way that it was more powerful because of that. It highlighted that people may be suffering in ways that we can’t always see and that sometimes our mind can be our own worst enemy.

Other YA novels that include characters with eating disorders, or revolve around those themes…


Before You Forget is a poignant and touching novel about loss and learning to live despite the world feeling like it’s ending. While the characters didn’t really stand out to me and weren’t all that memorable, I felt that the most important aspect of this novel was the way it highlighted that some of the worst and most debilitating illnesses of all are the ones that we can’t see, and that they should be treated as equally as some visible, like a broken arm. I can’t even begin to explain how angry it makes me that some people think mental illnesses aren’t  real and shouldn’t be taken seriously just because other people might not be able to see them. The fact that the only illnesses in our society that should be worthy of sympathy or support are those that are easily seen is disgusting and it needs to change. Below are some more mental health novel recommendations…

Let's Talk

Have you read Before You Forget yet? Have you read any of my other recommendations, or are they on your TBR? What are your favourite novels that revolve around the themes of mental health, or invisible illnesses? I think my reading has been lacking in the exploration of chronic pain as an ‘invisible illness’, especially from #OwnVoices authors – do you have any recommendations for that? I’d love to know!

Thanks to Penguin Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!

You might like

Highly Illogical Behaviour • Underwater • Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock


12 thoughts on ““Invisible Illnesses” in YA

  1. Great post Sarah. Really like that you’ve gone into more in depth topics. As you say depression and anxiety are common to find, but others are not so easy. Also love that you’ve mentioned one at the end you want recommendations for and acknowledge you haven’t found yet.
    I have only come across 2 books so far with chronic pain, Six of Crows which I’ll admit is good for introducing it into other genres other than contemporary. But for an actual first hand character experience with chronic pain I’d recommend Skid by Tracey Martin, which follows a girl after a brutal car accident who now has ongoing chronic back pain.

  2. I’ve read 3 books recently with Alzheimers: Unbecoming by Jenny Downham, How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss, & Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell. I just blogged about How Not to Disappear & next week I’m blogging about Unbecoming.
    I love the cover of Before You Forget and I’m looking forward to reading it. thanks for your teview. Julia Lawrinson’s ex-husband has early onset Alzheimers.

    • Ooh, I actually have read How Not to Disappear, but I forgot to add it! And I have Unbecoming on my shelf somewhere, unread 🙈 I’ll definitely get around to reading all of them soon! And I’ll check out your posts. I didn’t know that about her ex-husband, but I can understand how that influenced her writing and the raw and realistic way in which is was portrayed. Thanks for letting me know! 💜

  3. I loved reading this. Mental illness, or Mental struggles are so relevant in our society. It is a reality that needs to be talked about more and more in literature. I loved all the book recommendations you gave as well as the book you talked about regarding Alzheimer’s. It is a disease that I wish got a whole lot more representation in the book community. Beautiful post!

  4. Great post! I hadn’t heard of this book but it sounds like an amazing & important read. I have huge interest in books dealing with mental health and I’m actually working on my own recommendation post hahaha I’ve read and loved Wintergirls, It’s Kind of A Funny Story, All the Bright Places, I’ll Give You the Sun, Whisper to Me, Highly Illogical Behavior, and Under Rose-Tainted Skies! 😀 I have The Memory Book by Lara Avery on my TBR. It’s about Niemann-Pick Type C disease and I heard it’s good.

    • Thank you so much! It’s definitely a very important and touching read. Ooh – please send me a link to your post when it’s up! I’d love to give it a read. And yes, all of those ones are fantastic 🙌🏼 Oops, I forgot about The Memory Book! That was another phenomenal one (and one you’ll need tissues for) 😉💜

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