By Bailey Keimig-Gehrke, Youth Services
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. These young adult novels share different stories of mental health that will help readers to feel seen, gain empathy, and understand that we are all inherently valuable, regardless of what we may be going through.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, support is always available at 988lifeline.org or by dialing 988 from anywhere in the United States.
“Chaos Theory” by Nic Stone
This novel brings us a love story between two teenagers trying their best to avoid hitting rock bottom. First we meet Shelbi, a science-loving nerd whose struggles cause her to enroll at a new school for her senior year. Her plan is to avoid making friends, which should make keeping her bipolar disorder under wraps easy. Plus, she knows that whenever she lets people get too close, she ends up getting hurt.
Then we meet Andy, a politician’s son whose past continues to haunt him so fiercely that he can’t resist numbing the pain with alcohol. When Shelbi finds Andy’s wallet at the scene of a drunken car accident, the two end up forging an unexpected friendship. And they open up to each other more quickly and deeply than either of them could have predicted. Through this connection, Shelbi and Andy find the strength to process what they have gone through and grapple with what the future might hold. With a focus on ending the stigma that comes with mental health diagnoses, Nic Stone handles her characters with enormous empathy and respect. Though the story is frequently heart-wrenching, Shelbi and Andy’s journey to self-love and acceptance is ultimately uplifting.
For more characters learning to live their lives on their terms, try:
“The Place Between Breaths” by Na An
This story is told through a winding, nonlinear lens that paints a vivid and heartbreaking picture of what living with schizophrenia might look like. Grace, our 16-year-old protagonist, feels like she is in a race against time. Will a cure for schizophrenia be discovered before it sweeps her away, just like it did to her mother? Grace and her father—an intern and a research recruiter, respectively—dedicate all their time and energy into finding a cure. Just as it starts to feel possible, however, Grace feels something inside her give and start to unwind. Is it too late for her or can she still afford to hope? The intense, disjointed nature of this story will keep readers guessing as they ricochet between hope and desolation alongside Grace and her family.
For more explorations of schizophrenia in young adult fiction, try:
“History is All You Left Me” by Adam Silvera
This story focuses on Griffin, and is split into two alternating parts. “Today” focuses on the present-day grief Griffin feels after losing Theo, his first love, to a tragic drowning accident. This is where we see Griffin’s once-manageable obsessive compulsive disorder slowly spiral out of control.
“History” shows Griffin’s life before losing Theo. It includes the beginning, middle, and end of their love story, which culminates in a breakup that leaves Griffin reeling. To make matters worse, Theo moves to California for college and starts a new romance with a boy named Jackson.
Despite the breakup, Griffin is so certain that Theo will come back to him that he doesn’t know how to move forward. He certainly doesn’t plan on meeting Jackson, but when Griffin realizes that he might be the only one who truly understands his grief, he can’t resist reaching out. Will this surprising connection help both of them heal? Or will it take reliving every last bit of history for Griffin to truly move on? Adam Silvera delivers authentic representation of OCD alongside the ruthless heartbreak, and readers will love being along for the ride.
For more stories centered around OCD, try: