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Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Five Books That Lend a Voice

Marissa Secreto ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Copy Edited By: Nicholas DeBlasio ‘16

With mental illness becoming more and more of an important theme in contemporary literature, young adult novels have adapted this theme for a younger reading audience. Here are some of the novels making a difference in the way mental illness is presented to teenagers.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Photo Credit: https://cannonballread5.wordpress.com
Photo Credit: https://cannonballread5.wordpress.com

Released by Pocket Books in 1999, this epistolary novel tells the story of young Charlie and his experiences through his first year of high school. The book also revolves around Charlie’s past tragedies and his repressed memories that begin to infiltrate into his present life, which ultimately force him to confront them. Filled with humor but also with the intricacies of human relationships, this novel presents the idea of overcoming one’s anxieties, receiving proper help for them, and then living life from a new perspective.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Photo Credit: http://www.goodreads.com/
Photo Credit: http://www.goodreads.com/

In her debut young adult novel released earlier this year by Knopf Publishing Group, Niven details the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two teenagers coping with the effects of death and depression. Violet must handle the sudden death of her sister and find a way to move on from such tragedy. Finch, on other hand, is obsessed with his own death and how the best way to kill himself might be. The two meet in an unlikely moment at the top of a bell tower in their school, and their relationship develops into a series of adventures in order to find a life worth living. The novel’s main focus is that of depression from the viewpoint of teenagers whose lives have come to a standstill and who need a reason to keep on going. Intermixed with love and heartbreak, this novel promises an inside look into how the teenage mind copes with mental disorders.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

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Photo Credit: http://freakinsweetbookcovers.tumblr.com/

In this collaborative novel by Green and Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson relates the meeting of two boys by the same name of Will Grayson in a chance encounter in the city of Chicago. The novel was released in 2010 by Dutton Juvenile publishers and became the first LGBT-themed novel to make it onto the New York Times children’s bestseller list. Although it is filled with humor and lightheartedness, the novel also focuses on the theme of depression and anger, especially in LGBT youths. One of the two Will Graysons—written by Levithan, whose chapters are marked by all lower case letters—struggles with depression and his closeted sexuality. While Will’s depression is not the overall plot of the novel, his battle with self-loathing and self-deprecation filters into other aspects of his life and his continued encounters with the other Will Grayson.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Photo Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
Photo Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

In this 1999 award-winning novel, released by Farrar Straus Giroux, young Melinda must handle the pain of post-traumatic stress and isolation from her peers after an incident at a party over the summer. The novel gives a realistic look into the effects of PTSD, especially occurring after a sexual assault incident. This includes the refusal to speak up and make oneself remember what has happened. Speak highlights the long, hard road to recovery and how victims, young and old alike, should not be blamed for what happened to them but listened to and assisted. This novel is important in its telling of its major themes and gives a voice to an ever-present issue that causes mental illness.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Photo Credit: http://www.ew.com/
Photo Credit: http://www.ew.com/

Since its debut in 2007 from publisher Penguin Books, Thirteen Reasons Why started a ninety-week hold on the New York Times bestseller list, along with receiving numerous awards and recognitions. This novel tells the story of Clay Jensen, who discovers a package on his doorstep that contains seven cassette tapes from his former peer and crush Hannah Baker, who had recently committed suicide. This novel gives light to the reasons why one may choose to kill oneself and what the signs are that mark these thoughts. By giving these signs, the story hands readers something to look for in people that they may know and also defines suicide as something entirely personal, but also something entirely worth exploring in order to prevent it from happening in others.

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