Mental Health Fiction

Mental illness is becoming more and more common in fiction, especially YA. Many books, such as contemporaries, feature characters suffering with their mental health and they are even hinted at in some fantasy novels (Feyre’s PTSD in A Court of Mist and Fury, etc) As the stigma is slowly being removed in real life, it is creeping into our books too. Whereas some authors romanticise mental illness or portray it incorrectly and disrespectfully, these are some that we think are the exception. More importantly, these characters make us remember that we are not alone in this.
Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
(TW: Self Harm)

Girl in Pieces tells the story of seventeen-year-old Charlie, a girl who is no stranger to pain and loss. In order to cope, she self-harms to the point that we meet her at a rehabilitation centre where she is on her way to recovering. She shares her experience with a bunch of other, complex females and it all seems to be on the right track until Charlie is told that she is being released. Faced with the reality of living on the outside again, she must find her way alone but is she ready to let people back in?
Kathleen Glasgow isn’t afraid of delving into the dark world of mental illness. She doesn’t skirt over Charlie’s self-harm, Riley’s addiction or Linus’ alcoholism. Although these aren’t light-hearted subjects in themselves, she still manages to maintain a layer of hope throughout the novel. She makes you root for Charlie and the other characters, hoping that they can heal and keep going. Nothing is romanticised in this novel and I am so grateful for that. It is evidently clear that Kathleen Glasgow put her heart and soul into this book. 
This novel reminds me that we need to extinguish the stigma that is attached to mental illness. It should not be a taboo subject and it’s heartbreaking that it is something that is so common and I include myself in that. Charlie is a young girl who lost her father and her best friend, has an abusive and distant mother, is almost the victim of sexual assault, experiences homelessness and hunger but keeps going. She survives it and although her journey to recovery is far from over, she shows that you can do it. You can pull yourself out of it and I think that is such an important message, especially to the younger generation. 

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
(TW: Suicide)

This book tells the story of Liz Emerson as we find out why she chose to drive her Mercedes off the road and try to kill herself. The story is arranged in ‘snippets’ from Liz herself, her friends, her teachers and other people but overall, much like ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak, it is narrated by an omniscient presence. The book is non-linear which may confuse a few people but in my opinion, everything came together and it was very easy to follow.
I want to first talk about Liz herself. She is by no means your typical, kind YA character. She is the most popular girl in school and has used that to her advantage, such as bullying people. One of the main reasons she tries to kill herself is because she realises what sort of person she is and regrets everything she has done. The book displays her depression and will to die so frighteningly well. She feels as though she can’t redeem herself and take back all the pain she has caused. She’s angry that she has got away with everything. I found that so powerful and really felt like Liz was such a real character which made it all the more heartbreaking.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
(TW: Eating Disorders)

Wintergirls follows the story of Lia, a girl who suffers from severe eating disorders. It is written in a diary style, which, although not unique to this book, works incredibly well. It allows you to truly get into Lia’s head, and feel what she is experiencing. With Lia being portrayed as the author of the book, you also are able to understand her character a lot more than if it had been written in a different style.
Alongside the insight into the mind of someone with serious anorexia and body dysmorphia, Wintergirls highlights the drastic need for improvement in todays mental health services. Lia is beyond underweight, and yet she has been declared as stable. It isn’t until things begin to turn even worse that her illnesses are finally given the attention they need. 
I’m not sure that saying I enjoyed this book would exactly be the right way to describe how I felt during and after reading it. I think, instead, saying that I found it a powerful experience and learned a lot would be a far better way to put it.

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
(TW: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

Am I Normal Yet? follows the story of Evie, a sixteen year old girl suffering from OCD and an anxiety disorder. We meet her as she is starting her recovery after hitting rock bottom and all Evie wants is to be normal and to do normal things. This is a coming-of-age story, mixed with her recovery. It is raw and honest. It deals with mental health scarily well. I don’t suffer with OCD but I do have an anxiety disorder like Evie and it really hit close to home in some moments but that is how it’s supposed to be. If you have a mental health issue and you read a book about mental health, it is supposed to be relatable. 
If I could, I would stand in front of secondary school doors and hand this book out to everyone I saw. It is a book I wish I had in my early teens, it’s a book I wish existed more and it’s a book I would recommend to anyone.
Often the text was split up whenever Evie had a ‘bad thought.’ I know some would find this distracting but suffering with anxiety and unwelcome thoughts myself, this is realistic! These thoughts do invade your mind at unwanted and random moments. I loved that, especially when we see Evie trying to turn them into ‘good thoughts.’ Her mental illness is never sugar-coated, there are some moments towards the end of the book that are really difficult to read but this is reality. 

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
(TW: Rape)

Asking For It tells the story of Emma, a young, confident Irish girl, and what happens to her one night when she goes to a party. When she wakes up the next day with no memory of what happened or how she got home, photos from the night before begin to circulate the internet and accusations and rumours start to spread. Emma is the victim of the situation, but in the eyes of her community, she becomes the perpetrator. 
Honestly, I really struggled with this book. I’m not saying that because I disliked it but because it was just so painfully true to life that I really felt for Emma, the main character, and it hit me hard how the plot of this book could easily be the reality of so many girls around the world right now. It is a must read. It delves into rape culture, slut shaming, and the dangers of social media in a way that I’ve rarely seen done in a novel before. I cannot emphasise the importance of this book. 
Emma becomes a completely different person – she has been ostracised by all her friends and the entire community, she has stopped going to school, her family is falling apart and Emma herself is just an empty shell. This is not an easy book, it hasn’t got a happy ending, it hasn’t even got a ‘satisfactory’ ending but it’s realistic. 
Are there any books you guys would recommend that portray mental illness respectfully? If so, let us know in the comments!

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