Author: Wendy Tuxworth
I really love young adult literature. I think it’s one of the areas of publishing that is really pushing boundaries, particularly in terms of representation. So, here are 10 young adult novels that touch on mental health that I have not yet read. Many of them will be contemporaries, as this is my favoured genre, but there are one or two other genres too.
I have also tried to add content warnings for all of the books, but I had had difficulty finding a complete list for all of them.
Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
This is a slow-burn romance between Penny and Sam, who exchange numbers in case of emergencies. They text each other about everything, soon sharing jokes and secrets. Emergency Contact is by an Korean-American author who looks at poverty and mental health conditions such as anxiety and PTSD.
Content warning: ableist language (unchallenged), depiction of rape, anxiety and panic attacks, anti-trans discourse, alcoholism, parental neglect, racism
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis
This follows Tiffany Sly, who is living with father and family she never knew she had after the loss of her mother. It is a character-driven novel that looks at complicated family relationships. Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now has representation of PTSD, trauma, OCD, and anxiety.
Content warnings: death of parent, autism abuse, distressing family conflict, religion, discussions about heart disease, racism and colourism, several instances of ableism
Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
Etta is auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theatre academy. But that’s not all she’s worrying about – she is in recovery for an eating disorder, and dealing with concerns about food and her weight. She is also black and bisexual, which her queer friends just don’t understand.
Content warnings: Ableist language, biphobia, detailed discussion of eating disorders, discussion of the medicalisation of weight and its connection to anorexia diagnosis, talk of conversion therapy, underage drinking, slut-shaming
How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat
Vicky doesn’t really fit in at her school. That’s why she creates a fake Instagram account @Vicurious on which she photoshops her head into others’ images, making them look as real as possible. This starts to become a problem when her Instagram goes viral. How to Disappear looks at isolation, and how it feeds into anxiety and depression.
Content warnings: suicidal ideation, social anxiety, catfishing
Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfrey
Love and Other Alien Experiences is a contemporary romance that follows Mallory, a girl with anxiety disorder and agoraphobia. There’s a great geeky side to the book as well, in the form of ‘We Are Not Alone’, the alien forum Mal fills her days at home with.
Content warnings: parental abandonment, depictions of anxiety and agoraphobia
Imagine Us Happy by Jennifer Yu
In this nonlinear novel, Stella relates her experiences with depression and the toxic relationships she has with her parents and her boyfriend Kevin. Emotional and heart-rending, it talks about the importance of friendships and therapy in the face of all-consuming relationships.
Content warnings: emotional abuse from parents and partner, depression, self-injury, suicidal ideation
How It Feels to Fly by Kathryn Holmes
For as long as Samantha can remember, she’s wanted to be a professional ballerina. But her anxiety about her body make it difficult for her to follow her dreams. To help with this, she attends a summer therapy camp for performers, where she meets 5 other teens dealing with various anxiety issues.
Content warnings: body dysmorphia, depictions of anxiety and panic attacks, depression, self injury, eating disorders
The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
The Weight of Our Sky is a historical novel about the race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Melati Ahmad believes that she harbours a djinn inside her, who threatens her with her mother’s death unless she counts and taps to keep him satisfied. I know I’ve never read about OCD in a historical setting, so that’s really interesting!
Content warnings: graphic violence, graphic depictions of death, gore, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and panic attacks, death of loved one, multiple blood mentions, racism
Clean by Juno Dawson
Clean begins with Lexi being taken to a island rehab centre to detox from her heroin addiction. She meets people such as Kendall, a trans girl who is anorexic; Ruby, who overeats; Brady, a sex addict and Guy, who has OCD. Lexi is an interesting character, as she does have real struggles, but is also a privileged socialite.
Content warnings: drug and alcohol abuse/addiction, eating disorders, suicide, suicidal thoughts, death (overdose)
For A Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig
A fantasy novel by Heidi Heilig, For A Muse of Fire is about the souls of the recently departed, puppets, and Jetta, a biracial and bipolar teenager. The world is inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism, and the bipolar representation is based on the author’s lived experiences.
Content warnings: Mental illness (bipolar), blood use in magic, gun violence, war, colonialism, racism, descriptions of dead bodies, mention of reproductive coercion, mentions of torture, mention of suicide