YA Mental Health Must-Reads of 2019

One of the things I’m most passionate about in YA is mental illness representation. I mean, isn’t it always amazing to read about characters and stories that you can relate to or see yourself in? Which is why all kinds of representation is SUPER IMPORTANT! I’m definitely a little biased because of my own experiences, but some of my favourite books are queer and have mental illness representation because THAT’S ME! I FEEL SEEN!

I’ve read quite a few incredible YA novels with mental health representation so far in 2019, so today I want to share some of my top favourites with you! I particularly loved these five that I’ve read this year, and I hope you love all of them as well.

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Mental Illness in YA: Eating Disorders

I’ve been thinking about books that feature protagonists who live with a mental illness or novels that talk about mental health a lot recently, and so I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my recommendations with all of you! This is going to be an ongoing series where I’ll pick a certain aspect of mental health representation and share some of your favourite reads with you.

I’m going to start this little series by bringing you my top recommendations for YA novels with eating disorder representation. As this post discusses books dealing with eating disorders and other mental illnesses, there are trigger warnings for ED and suicide, so please proceed with caution. While I personally connected to all of these books and felt as though they accurately represented what it’s like to live with an eating disorder, please be aware that everyone experiences mental illness differently and your opinion on their realistic nature may differ from mine.

So here are five of my top recommendations for anyone looking to add more YA novels with eating disorder representation to their TBRs!

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A Chat with Claire Christian

When Claire was down for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival not too long ago, I was lucky enough to catch up with her at a little cafe in the city and have a chat. If you know me at all, there’s nothing I love more than coffee and books – so this was the perfect combination of the two. We went to a cute cafe outside the Melbourne City Library that I’d been meaning to visit for ages, called The Journal Cafe, and it was simply delightful.

I’d only met Claire briefly before at a writing event for the Emerging Writers Festival, and it was brilliant to be able to sit down and just have a chilled conversation, surrounded by the bookish decor and the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. Being the lovely person she is, Claire kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me to share with y’all!

I adored hearing more about how her novel, Beautiful Mess, made it into this world, what she’s working on now, and what influenced the writing of this sensational novel. She’s such a genuine, inspirational person and it was an honour to be able to spend some time with her.

“It’s okay to not be okay.” – Claire Christian, author of BEAUTIFUL MESS

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Beautiful Mess – book review

35157846Since Ava lost Kelly, things haven’t been going so well. Even before she gets thrown out of school for shouting at the principal, there’s the simmering rage and all the weird destructive choices. The only thing going right for Ava is her job at Magic Kebab.

Which is where she meets Gideon. Skinny, shy, anxious Gideon. A mad poet and collector of vinyl records with an aversion to social media. He lives in his head. She lives in her grief. The only people who can help them move on with their lives are each other.

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Poorly Written Mental Health Books

Four Weeks Five PeopleThey’re more than their problems.

Obsessive-compulsive teen Clarissa wants to get better, if only so her mother will stop asking her if she’s okay.

Andrew wants to overcome his eating disorder so he can get back to his band and their dreams of becoming famous.

Film aficionado Ben would rather live in the movies than in reality.

Gorgeous and overly confident Mason thinks everyone is an idiot.

And Stella just doesn’t want to be back for her second summer of wilderness therapy.

As the five teens get to know one another and work to overcome the various disorders that have affected their lives, they find themselves forming bonds they never thought they would, discovering new truths about themselves and actually looking forward to the future.

The amount of books I’ve read where teenagers living with mental illnesses go on “recovery camps” is ridiculous. Maybe it’s because I’ve never encountered anything like this in Australia (not to say they don’t exist; I just haven’t heard of them here), or maybe it’s because the idea of going on a camp that is portrayed to “cure” teenagers by the end of a few weeks is problematic, but these books generally don’t sit well with me. However, I was excited to give this one a go because I hoped that it would be different. Spoiler alert: It didn’t. I felt like this book took on more than it could chew, writing from the points of view of five teenagers all dealing with different mental illnesses, and perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if there was more of a plot. To me, this book felt like one that simply showed the lives of these teenagers throughout four weeks, and even that wasn’t done well as it felt like it didn’t have any real direction. There was just a lot wrong with this book.Read More »

When LOVE Cures Mental Illness

One of the things that endlessly frustrates me about some YA novels that revolve around themes of mental health is the idea that the love interest, or romance itself, can “cure” mental illness. Don’t get me wrong — I love reading books to do with mental illness because I think they’re so important and powerful. Not only can they help those battling to see that they’re not alone in feeling how they do and that there’s always hope and someone who loves you, but also to educate other readers about the reality of living with a mental illness. It’s not sunshines and rainbows, and it’s certainly not romantic. I wrote a post about how self-harm is often glamorised or romanticised in the media and our literature, but today I’m going to be discussing how harmful it is to portray mental illness as something that can be “cured” when you fall in love, or when the “right person” comes along and saves you.

A book I was reading recently called Optimists Die First really got me thinking about the place romance has in novels that are attempting to give an accurate and raw portrayal about what it’s like to live with a mental illness. I’m not saying that there should be a ban on love in these sorts of novels, or books with these themes, but I strongly believe that love should never be written as “the thing that saves you” from your mental illness. While we didn’t see our protagonist “cured” from her social anxiety and OCD (though the OCD isn’t given a label in the narrative), the love interest had some dubious motives for why he wanted to become close with her, and as their relationship grew, Petula’s symptoms were seen to recede. All because of “love”.

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Romanticising Self-Harm

Please be advised that this post discusses self-harm and mentions abuse.

Writing this piece is going to be somewhat difficult at the moment because I’m very angry, for reasons which you may have already guessed from the title of this piece, so I can’t guarantee that everything I write will be coherent or even marginally articulate, but writing has always been a form of therapy for me, so I think this is something that I need to do. For my benefit, as well as yours.

Yesterday, I saw an image on social media that was very confronting and, to be frank, vile. I’m not going to name the person whose photo it was, the platform it was shown on or post the photo here a) because I don’t believe in shaming someone without tagging them in the content and b) I don’t want anyone else to be triggered by this photo. But that photo got me thinking about some very important things that we should be discussing more, which is the way self-harm is often romanticised in what we read and watch, and how that’s not okay.

To give you a vague idea, the image was of a novel and a painted blue arm with golden slits dripping golden “blood”, mirroring the book cover. Disgusted, I moved to the comments section and saw that only one person had stated how hurtful the image was. The blogger responded, defending their work by saying it was just “art”.

Self-harm is not “art”.

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A Quiet Kind of Thunder – book review

quiet-kind-of-thunder

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.Read More »

Made You Up – book review

made-you-up

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. 

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.Read More »