Mental illness and mental well-being are topics that keep emerging in contemporary YA, and they keep being explored in worthwhile — even life-changing — ways. This list features very recent contemporary YA titles that have tackled mental illness in some capacity.
All of these titles were published in the last two years, though many, many more titles have come before and many more will come after. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather one meant to show a range of experiences. Some of the descriptions aren’t entirely insightful as to what the mental illness tackled is, and sometimes that’s purposeful (The Stone Girl, for example, highlights the eating disorder but there is most definitely a mental illness coexisting with it).
If you have other favorite contemporary realistic YA titles that tackle mental illness and mental well-being from any period of time, feel free to leave the title and author in the comments. And yes, you may borrow and share this list as you see fit.
Descriptions are from WorldCat, unless otherwise noted.
Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith: The discovery of a startling family secret leads seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd from a protected and naive life into a summer of mental illness, first love, and profound self-discovery.
Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab: For eight of her sixteen years Carolina Mitchell’s older sister Hannah has been a nun in a convent, almost completely out of touch with her family–so when she suddenly abandons her vocation and comes home, nobody knows quite how to handle the situation, or guesses what explosive secrets she is hiding.
Something Like Normal by Trish Doller: When Travis returns home from Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and car, and he has nightmares of his best friend getting killed but when he runs into Harper, a girl who has despised him since middle school, life actually starts looking up.
Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn: A lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy must either surrender his sanity to the wild wolves inside his mind or learn that surviving means more than not dying.
Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan: Steven “Crash” Crashinsky relates his sordid ten-year relationship with David “Burn” Burnett, the boy he stopped from taking their high school hostage at gunpoint.
Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick: An emotionally damaged sixteen-year-old girl begins a relationship with a deeply troubled older man.
Bruised by Sarah Skilton: When she freezes during a hold-up at the local diner, sixteen-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, has to rebuild her life, including her relationship with her family and with the boy who was with her during the shoot-out.
Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown: Seventeen-year-old Kendra, living in the shadow of her brother’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, takes a life-changing road trip with him.
This is Not A Drill by Beck McDowell: Two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD. When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the psychotic gunman threatening them–a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he’s denied access to his son because of a custody battle. The children’s fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake’s alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war.