YA Gets Real and Deals with Mental Health Issues – Part Two

Last week, in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, we began talking about YA novels whose lead characters manage mental health conditions. Let’s meet some of these characters.

The heroine of Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca has a mother battling depression and sometimes unable to get out of bed. But, despite the long shadow of major depressive disorder (MDD), there are tangible victories mixed in with the jumbled feelings and practical complications. (As the lead male character in Emery Lord’s When We Collided also learns, loving someone with a mental health condition complicates family life a lot.) Francesca, too, must ward off shadows—and does. (Stats: an estimated 16 million U.S. adults had depressive episodes in 2012, and lifetime prevalence is estimated at 20% for women and 12% for men. If so, there are a lot of Francescas in our midst.)

Laurie Halse Anderson is a pioneer and has made a career out of examining various forms of trauma in nuanced detail. Having already gone inside the world of a date-raped adolescent (Speak), she takes us inside a family in which the father, a vet, suffers from PTSD. The book is The Impossible Knife of Memory, and it features Anderson’s characteristically adroit writing—which is also evident in Wintergirls, whose lead character is anorexic.

Lexapros and Cons character Chuck, a high-school senior, soldiers on despite being one of the 3.3 million Americans with the disorder. (Pun explained: Lexapro is an often-prescribed OCD and depression medication.) Chuck does more than just cope: he makes real progress in managing his situation. He is also very funny, what with his fumbling attempts to woo the girl from Math class with whom he is besotted.

Samantha, the heroine of Tamara Stone’s Every Last Word, appears to have a charmed life (popular at school, known for her keen fashion sense, etc.), yet she is plagued with intrusive thoughts and worries. Good thing she discovers poetry and makes new friends who love it, too–allowing her to look at her life with fresh eyes.

In these books, characters learn and apply health-nurturing skills, and each one’s journey is unique. That can also be said of Natalie Blitt’s The Distance from A to Z, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, and Kelsey Macke’s Damsel Distressed.

Many of these books show teens “living in wellness” after learning the necessary skills. The characters go through severe hardships to get there, often as a result of their own actions (characters’ reluctance to “take their meds” is a recurring theme). Their writers have figured out that teens can make peace with their demons and be who they want to be. As Green says at the end of Turtles All the Way Down, “It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.”

Next week, in the third and final blog celebrating YA books during Mental Health Awareness Month, we will talk about how the Niles-Maine District Library and its library consortium partners also provide teens with access to helpful nonfiction resources.

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