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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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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Coping with Grief in Healthy Ways

There’s no doubt that there’s an abundance of YA novels that revolve around a character’s grief, and their struggle to overcome it. These characters are often seen to fall into harmful ways of thinking or destructive patterns of behaviour, and this can show readers who might be impressionable and moulded by what they consume and that this is the “normal” way to deal with grief and hardship. Believing these things can not only be detrimental to the individual, but also highlight the need for authors to have a responsibility towards their readers. While I do believe that some “controversial” novels are valuable as they provide readers with alternate points of view and give a voice to the sides that may not be as heard in our society, it’s harmful to convey to readers that it’s “normal” to cope by means of self-harm of destructive behaviours. This is effectively what we are communicating to some readers by normalising these actions to the point that the lines between “healthy” and “unhealthy” are blurred.

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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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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 »

Girl in Pieces – book review

girl-in-pieces-book-red

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. 

A deeply moving portrait of a teenage girl on the verge of losing herself and the journey she must take to survive in her own skin, Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.Read More »