There’s nothing I love seeing in books more than accurate representation of people from marginalised communities and those who are neurodiverse or live with a mental illness. Books with depression representation have a particularly special place in my heart. As someone who’s lived with depression since Year 10, I found a lot of solace in these YA novels when I was feeling at my most alone and to see myself in the books I was reading.
What I love about YA, especially what’s being written and released recently, is how so many people are able to see themselves in what they read. There’s still so much room for improvement, but in my case, seeing depression represented in teen characters honestly made such a big difference to my life in high school. Books help us feel less alone.
So today I want to share some of my favourite YA books with depression representation with you! I’ve chosen five that have impacted me the most and that I’ve seen the most of myself in – and it’s important to note that not everyone’s experience with depression and other mental illnesses are exactly the same. These books just have such a special place in my heart, and I hope you like these ones too.
I recently listened to this stunning book on audio and it’s easy to say that it’s officially one of my favourite novels of 2018. One of the most spectacular things about Darius the Great is Not Okay is how it captured the struggles of growing up in one country and feeling like you don’t quite fit in there, and then going back to the country you have family connections to and feeling like you don’t belong there either. This is a book that talked about family and friendship and not judging people from your first encounters with them, and it was just such a powerful, touching read.
Darius the Great is Not Okay also candidly portrayed what it’s like living with depression and managing a mental illness with medication, and I felt like I could really relate to Darius in how his depression affected him. But I loved how Darius’s depression was just one aspect of his character and it didn’t derail the story in any way. We need more characters who are living with mental illnesses in stories that aren’t about mental illness and nothing else. This is a novel that made me laugh, cringe, and cry, and I’ll be rereading it again in the near future. What an unforgettable book.
This is probably the most controversial novel of this list, and I want to preface this by saying that it’s definitely not the best representation of depression I’ve ever read and it does somewhat conform to the ‘love curing mental illness’ trope in some aspects, which I despise, but it’s the first book I ever really saw my depression in and I can’t not include it. My Heart and Other Black Holes is a book about severe depression and suicidal ideation, and it was just one massive punch to the gut. But I read this novel at a time I was feeling the most alone, and just seeing so much of myself represented in a book changed everything for me. I realised I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. I realised I could get through this. And in many respects, this book saved my life.
One of the things I loved most about this heart-wrenching read is just how real the characters are. They’re messy and complex and raw, and their sadness radiates off the page. I remember reading this book in one sitting and just kind of sitting and staring off into space once I was done because I felt like nothing would ever be the same again. I saw so much of myself in both of the characters, and getting to know them was like getting to know myself in a different way. I saw my depression in a different way from that moment on, and I have this book to thank for that.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a book that fell into my hands at the exact moment I needed it the most. Like the other books on this list, I saw so much of myself in this novel. This is a book about an ambitious teen who seems to have it all—and yet, the pressure is unbearable. As an ambitious (then) high school student myself who almost killed herself trying to do too much and be the ‘perfect student’, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a book I fiercely related to.There’s even a paragraph a few pages in that I felt like could have come straight from my mouth. It was just like this book saw me in a way that no book previously had.
Most of the books with characters living with depression I’ve read about portray the characters to be forced into inpatient treatment, which was the opposite in this protagonist’s case. We were shown what led up to this boy almost choosing to die by suicide, and how he instead chose to voluntarily commit himself to this treatment program at a hospital. But my favourite part of this book was probably that this character recognised that things weren’t going to be immediately better for him, just because he’s learning to deal with his depression in a way that he hadn’t before. He recognised that life was still going to be hard sometimes, but it was going to be worth it. And I think that’s something we all have to remind ourselves from time to time.
This was another absolutely phenomenal read, and one that I haven’t stopped recommending since I first read it. It’s about aliens and suicide and the end of the world and being queer, and it was just so weird and so perfect. I always love books that are a little bit on the quirky side, so We Are the Ants was right up my alley. But of course, my favourite part of this book was the way it represented depression. It showed how the protagonist’s life was affected when his boyfriend died and how he feels like there’s no point in living now that he’s gone, and it was just so heart-wrenching and so real.
We Are the Ants is a book that raises the question: is the world really worth saving? When everything seems so terrible and the human race is destroying itself, why bother saving it? I loved these big, existential questions that it raised—it’s the perfect 3am read. This is just such an important book that accurately depicts what it’s like to deal with grief and live with depression, and I utterly adored it.
Writing about self-harm is such a tough issue to write about with sensitivity and candour, but Kathleen Glasgow does both in Girl in Pieces. It’s a touch read at times, but these issues can’t be shied away from in YA. But this isn’t just a book about self-harm. It also talks about depression and abuse and addiction and homelessness, and wow, it’s a really heavy novel. If this was an easy read, it wouldn’t have done these characters justice. Girl in Pieces is a tough, gritty read that doesn’t skip over the dark parts. It was just spectacular.
Like some of the other books about mental illness I’ve read, I love how Girl in Pieces showed that living with a mental illness isn’t always going to be easy. You can’t be cured with the flick of a switch, no matter how hard you try. This book showed the reality of living with a mental illness—all the highs and the lows. It illustrated the journey that recovery actually is, not just what some media portrays it to be. And I really admire that aspect about it. While it might be a difficult read at times, it’s definitely one that should be on your TBR.
Have you read any of my top picks? What are some of your favourite YA novels with depression representations? What others should I add to my TBR? I’d love to hear your thoughts!