five YA contemporaries about mental health issues that are likely to break your heart

book recs.(1)

Hello, friends!

As many of you may now, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Going through my shelves, I realized I’ve actually read quite a few books that discuss mental health issues and decided to compile a list of some of my favorite titles that are definitely hard hitting and likely to make you cry.

Hope you guys enjoy it!



Even though Challenger Deep is not technically own-voices, it was inspired by Neal Shusterman’s son experience in being in the schizo-spectrum. He even collaborated with some of the illustrations you find throughout the book! It definitely shows that the author knows what he’s talking about when building this story, and that was very important.

img_1087Our main character Caden is trying to stay afloat as he experiences multiple hallucinations. He knows he has his life – with his friends, his little sister, homework and videogames -, but he also knows he’s the captain of a ship going straight to Challenger Deep – the deepest known point in Earth.

It’s really interesting seeing these two “lives” Caden is living intertwine. I really admired the way the author talked about therapy, being inside a schizo-spectrum which not always means you’ll get a definitive diagnosis and how challenging that can be, as well as the fact mental health issues are not something you can “cure”, but something you can work on to get better, but never 100%.

I think all of these were so positive messages to see in a YA book. I really think this one deserves more hype, as it was very hard-hitting but beautiful at the same time.


addiction and anxiety related to trauma

Trigger warnings: overdose, discussions on suicide, death of a parent

Honestly, I have no idea if addiction is officially considered a mental health issue, but from my research, some therapists do consider it, so it counts, I think.

IMG_3204It was interesting to me to see addiction being discussed at length in a YA book, because I typically see recreational drug use being often a trope in YA, and teenagers are almost always not ready to have a discussion on the dangers of such. It’s not being preachy, it’s simply being aware of what you’re ingesting and taking responsibility for any further consequences.

What I like about You’d Be Mine is that it touches on how drinking issues are typically linked to other issues, such as anxiety and depression, being possibly a coping mechanism or a development from the drug use. Even though this book deals with such hard topics, it never felt like the author was trying to glamorize them, even if the characters were celebrities after all.

In fact, I think it was done very responsibly and showed that both needed to be better as individuals before they could be good to each other too, which is *extremely* important when talking about such topics for a younger audience.


post-traumatic stress disorder

Trigger warnings: mentions and attempt of sexual abuse, violence, abusive parents, divorce.

Having finished this book recently, my memory is fresh, so I had to add it on the list. Our main characters are Rev – an adopted child who starts getting messages from his abusive biological father – and Emma – who’s being harrassed at a game online that she designed herself.

IMG_3924I will mostly focus on Rev’s perspective here, since he’s the one dealing with the PTSD. I think the author did a really great job at allowing us inside Rev’s head and how his trauma was not as black and white as it seemed.

Rev’s father was a religious figure and used religion as a way to abuse him. Yet, Rev does have faith and beliefs of himself. Throughout the book, we can see how he’s trying to detach both things from each other: his own joruney with God and his relationship with his father. It’s interesting because the characters around him also struggle to understand how he can still believe in God after everything his dad put him through on His name, so I think it was really smart how the author built such a complex character.

I also think how the narrative discussed confronting a past trauma to be really great, even if it was particularly hard for me to read and I did skim through most of it. Not everything can be just forgive and forget. And you don’t have to do so in order to move on. It was kind of showing me the opposite of everything I believed, but in Rev’s case, it made so much sense.


obsessive compulsive disorder

TRIGGER WARNINGS: graphic violence, death, racism

IMG_4039Okay, so maybe the title of this post is not entirely correct, because The Weight of Our Sky is not contemporary, but rather historical fiction. Set during the race riots in Kuala Lumpur in 1969, this book follows our main character Melati, a Muslim Malay girl who struggles with OCD.

Because the book is from her perspective, this can be a quite overwhelming trait in the writing. But I think this is what creates even more the idea of being inside Melati’s head. There are a lot of repetitions, long paragraphs with no punctuation, and you can feel the anxiety building up as you read. It made this read hard for me, but I imagine that for someone who also struggles with anxiety, it can be extremely meaningful to see your thoughts validated and understood in this way.

It’s also interesting the way the author approaches the topic of mental ilness and religion. What we identify as OCD, Melati and her family understand as a djinni that has been living in her head and the process of counting repeatedly or searching for a number three in everything is her way of “feeding” said djinni. Especially considering this was set in 1969, it is expected that there wouldn’t be as much information or resources on mental health and specifically, compulsive disorders, so it is understandable that people would go for religion in order to make sense of said behaviors.

This book is definitely not for everyone, as the race riots are quite intense and Melati’s thoughts and perspective definitely add to said tension, but I still want to recommend for a very authentic and own-voices representation.



It’s been a while since I read this book, so it’s definitely one I should probably re-read soon, but I wanted to recommend anyway because I think it discusses certain topics related to mental ilness that are very interesting.

IMG_4036Our protagonists are:

  • Solomon. Hasn’t left the house in three whole years.
  • Lisa. Knows Solomon from school, and is determined that “fixing” him will be her path to the second best Psychology school in the country.
  • Clark. Lisa’s boyfriend. Becomes friends with Solomon by talking about Star Trek daily.

Obviously, there’s a major issue being brought up here: the whole idea that Lisa will “fix” Solomon. Like I mentioned before in this post, Highly Illogical Behavior also dedicates itself to challenge the idea that mental health issues can be cured. It can’t. It definitely can get better and manageable, but never 100% cured.

It’s also nice that this book intertwines the topic of sexuality, as Solomon is gay and developing a major crush on Clark. Their relationship is very platonic, but it makes for really soft interactions and a ton of Star Trek references that contrast with some of the harder aspects of this book.

This read is very funny, don’t get me wrong. But there are other moments that are very difficult to read and likely to break your heart. But I loved the hopeful tone after all and especially the focus on how support can be so helpful when dealing with mental health issues.

Let me know some of your favorite books that talk about mental health. Are you planning on reading anything for the Mental Health Awareness Month? Have you read any of the titles I mentioned here? Let’s chat in the comments!

14 comentários sobre “five YA contemporaries about mental health issues that are likely to break your heart

  1. I have always enjoyed books that have a strong emotional pull and break your heart in a way which sounds weird but I think it means you have a strong connection and the book is able to deliver on a strong emotional level. I also think talking about Mental Health is important and like you mentioned in the post, in the right way as it isn’t something to fix but you can take a journey with it to get better and know how to deal with it in a healthy way.
    Challenger Deep sounds like a well written, emotional and important book. I will definitely have to try it out at one point !!
    You’d Be Mine definitely sounds like an important book as I think talking about addiction with alcohol and drugs is very important. And like you said it is often talked about casually but it can be a dangerous path which shouldn’t be glamourized so seeing that in YA books is great !!

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    • Sorry I sent it too soon !! But I recently read The Weight Of Our Sky and I really enjoyed it !! It was a very hard and intense read but I liked the characters, learning about the past and the mental representation as we really got to see inside Mel’s head like you said!! I thought it was a great read !!
      Thank you for sharing this list of books as you definitely encouraged me to pick some up and I loved reading what you had to say about them all !! Great list !! <3

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      • Exactly! I think being inside Mel’s head is what made this book for me, even if it was very overwhelming at times. It’s quite a hard-hitting book, but a super important one.
        Thank you so muchhh! I am so happy that this post was useful in some way! 💛

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  2. Ah, I loved this post, Lais!! It’s amazing that you put this post together for Mental Health Awareness Month <3 Sadly, I've only read one book from this list, and that's The Weight of Our Sky :"") I really enjoyed it though! I saw that some people found the depiction of Melati's OCD repetitive, but I personally didn't? I really admired how the author was able to show how Melati's OCD affected her life in different ways, and even if it was a little repetitive, I think that was the point, lmao. Also, I really, really loved that The Weight of Our Sky discussed what having a mental illness is like while also being Muslim, Malay, *and* living in historical times, where there was little to know awareness about mental health issues on top of all that.
    I'm intrigued by the rest of the books on this list, but like you're super hesitant with fantasy, I'm super hesitant with contemporary too 😅😅 so we'll see if I ever get to them—I really want to read something by Erin Hahn though! I'll probably start with More Than Maybe, her new release 🤔

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    • thank you so muchhh! i think being repetitive was exactly the point, hahah. it was overwhelming at first, but that was clearly the author’s intention.
      hahah, i totally get that! it’s interesting that we have such opposite reading tastes, hahah.
      thank you so much for reading, though! 😌

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  3. I think my favorite contemporary books are the ones that deal with heavy issues yet still have some cute elements. I adore all of Brigid Kemmerer’s contemporary books, and I love finding new contemporary books that aren’t always fluff and romance. Thanks for this awesome list!

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    • Brigid Kemmerer is such a good author! I am so happy to have found her work this year and I can not wait to read Letters to the Lost, as it will be my last contemporary of hers I still have to pick up. She’s really fantastic at crafting realistic characters and I love that.
      Thank you so much for reading! 😊

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  4. This was such a cool post!
    I really enjoy reading books that focus on mental disorders because I like learning more about them. I’ve only read one and it was called “waiting for Fitz” and it was pretty good. It was about a girl with OCD and a boy with Schizophrenia and it was quite interesting to learn more about Schizo. as my grandpa has it. I actually just did a research paper for school on schizophrenia too and it was very informative! I’ll have to check these books out, they look really good! ❤️

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  5. This is a fantastic list. I had a few of these on my TBR anyway but I didn’t realise You’d Be Mine had any sort of mental health rep involved in it. The way it’s worked into the story sounds incredibly good though. And I have a few Neal Shusterman books on my TBR so I’m surprise I hadn’t heard of his before.

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