Despite what some may think, the genre of young adult literature encompasses a vast array of topics besides adventure-packed dystopian worlds and ridiculous vampire romances. There are hundreds of realistic fiction teen novels, and many of them address the hardest aspects of growing up in today’s society. YA authors aren’t afraid to tackle the nitty gritty, from body image issues to the effects of social isolation.
Here are some of the top teen books that discuss various aspects of mental health. Most of these titles have been deemed quite controversial, but they’re sparking debate across the country for a reason.
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
This amusing novel tells the story of Willowdean, AKA Dumplin’. A self-proclaimed “fat girl,” Willowdean attempts to do all the normal things a teen does: wear swimsuits, fall in love, go to dances, etc. However, she constantly struggles with her weight and its impact on her confidence. Murphy does a splendid job of addressing body image issues in young women, as well as pointing out sexism and other issues in our society. Will is a relatable character, and her mental journey to self-acceptance is an important one.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
This heavy YA novel follows characters Lia and Cassie, two best friends who strive to be rail thin at all costs. As their eating disorders begin to overtake their lives, the reality of their problem becomes painfully clear. Anderson explores the process of struggling with anorexia, as well as the extremely difficult path to acceptance and recovery.
Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
The main character of Made You Up, Alex, struggles on a daily basis to differentiate between what is real and what is one of her many delusions. She’s determined to attend college like any other person her age, but her schizophrenia poses a serious threat to that future. Zappia tells Alex’s story in a funny but provoking way. The entire story poses the question: How does a teenage girl pretend to be “normal” when she’s anything but?
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Recently adapted as a Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why has garnered a lot of attention ever since it was published in 2007. Asher tells the tale of a young man who discovers a package from Hannah Baker, who recently ended her own life. Inside the package are several cassette tapes recorded by the dead girl, and she painfully explains why she committed suicide. Dark and raw, this book will make you rethink the way you affect others on a day-to-day basis.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Niven tactfully weaves a tale of light and dark in the human mind. Theodore Finch has always been fascinated by death and the many ways in which he could end his own life. Violet Markey, on the other hand, only wants to move on from the immense pain of her sister’s death. When the two accidentally meet, they embark on a journey of self-exploration and acceptance. Heartbreaking and beautifully-written, this one has earned more than its fair share of praise from critics.