The Young Adult genre has managed to stay relevant and continues to gain immense popularity. Although it usually consists of coming-of-age novels for youngsters between the ages of 12-19, the genre also rings true when it comes to the struggles and triumphs that many adults tend to face as part of their lives. For this reason, YA novels are widely read and appreciated across generations. Nevertheless, not enough credit is given to them for their diverse representations, creativity, and the inclusion of significant social and political issues.

One area of interest that has been gaining attention now more than ever is mental health and its importance in this day and age. YA novels have done their part in giving us raw, heartbreaking stories surrounding mental illness and the deteriorating impact that they can have on individuals. Here are 9 highly recommended YA novels that feature mental illness and health.


A List Of Cages

Robin Roe

Written by a high school special education teacher who has had to deal with mental illness herself, this YA novel explores the story of a high school senior diagnosed with ADHD and his former foster brother Julian who has strangely become quiet. When the two begin to rekindle their relationship, Adam starts to notice something wrong with Julian’s behaviour. As Adam sets out to help Julian open up to him, he also discovers a few things about himself in the process.  The novel, told in dual perspective, shows how frightening depression, social anxiety, and compulsive thoughts can be while also reinforcing the power of true friendship and seeking help.

Buy it here.



Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is well known for her contemporary YA novels – Fangirl being one of them. Fangirl is about a girl named Cath who is entering college as a terrified freshman where her only solace is the online world. Cath is a famous fanfiction writer of a book series based on Harry Potter, which has over thousands of hits. While Cath types away on her computer day and night, she suffers from severe anxiety and struggles to get used to her new college life. This novel not only follows Cath’s incredibly relatable storyline but also sheds light on the positive and negative effects of technology on mental health.

Buy it here.


The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky

It’s almost impossible to omit this book when talking about the portrayal of mental illness in YA novels. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower follows Charlie’s experiences as a freshman as he tries to navigate through the new changes in his life. While Charlie’s introverted side is relatable to most teenagers, the novel also explores complex mental health issues. As Charlie begins to expose himself to new environments and friends, he starts connecting with his trauma and decides to start talking about it to other people. This novel shows how challenging it can be to maintain your mental well-being when you’re trying to move past previous trauma and opening up to new adventures.

Buy it here.


Turtles All The Way Down

John Green

Though John Green is mostly known for his previous contemporary works such as The Fault In Our Stars and Looking For Alaska, this masterpiece, which released on World Mental Health Day last year, hits home with its authentic portrayal of mental illness. Aza’s daily experiences with severe anxiety are expressed through her obsessive and compulsive thoughts using the beautiful and painfully accurate metaphor of a downward spiral. Despite the presence of an integral external plot and romance, this YA novel focuses on Aza’s internal struggle and makes sure that readers understand what mental illness must feel like.

Buy it here.


My Heart And Other Blackholes

Jasmine Warga

This widely acclaimed YA novel follows the story of two tormented teens who decide to become suicide partners after meeting on a website. Although it is often hard to distinguish someone’s personality from their illness, Warga succeeds in portraying the characters as real people and not just through the lens of their depressed states. With the inclusion of physics and philosophical concepts, this book manages to give an entirely new perspective on the life of someone with mental illness.

Buy it here.


We Are The Ants

Shaun David Hutchinson

Though most novels that revolve around mental illness are usually contemporary YA novels, We Are The Ants falls in the science fiction genre. The aliens that Henry has been in contact with, tell him that the world is about to end in 144 days and that all he has to do to stop this from happening is push a red button.  That being said, Henry isn’t sure if he really wants to. Not pushing the button can save him from pain and doing the opposite means that he has to live with it for the rest of his life. Through its witty and gripping narrative, this novel focuses more on Henry’s internalised struggle and its effect on his decision.

Buy it here.


Definitions of Indefinable Things

Whitney Taylor

The two main characters of this novel are represented as complex human beings, but not just because of their mental illnesses. Their illnesses are shown as a part of them that neither downgrade nor elevate aspects of their personality. Reggie, who deals with depression, doesn’t let people in due to the fear that she will be hurt by them. However, things change when she meets Snake, a blunt narcissist who also suffers from depression. This novel also overtly addresses the stigma surrounding mental health when the characters face backlash from their own families. Although this novel has many cliches and tropes that most contemporary novels do (like love triangles), it adds its own spin to it and portrays an interesting dynamic between people who have mental illnesses.

Buy it here.


The Upside Of Unrequited

Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli, the author of Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda (which was just made into a movie), writes about the recurring anxious and depressive thoughts that Molly – an overweight teenager – has to live with. While Molly hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, she definitely struggles with feelings of worthlessness. Her low self-esteem and self-loathing are eloquently expressed through amazingly quotable instances in the book. Most people tend to overlook the negative effects that being overweight can have on an individual’s mental health, which this novel clearly demonstrates. A lot of people may be able to relate to the way Molly feels, and the novel’s raw nature makes its message even more effective.

Buy it here.


The Astonishing Color Of After

Emily X.R. Pan

This debut novel follows the life of Leigh after her mother commits suicide. Determined to find out what her mom’s last note meant, she travels to Taiwan to unlock the secrets of her family’s history. On her journey, she is guided by a mysterious red bird whom she later comes to believe is her mother. The novel’s heart-wrenching depiction of grief and depression comes through its magically realistic elements, lyrical prose, and spectacular descriptions.

Buy it here.

Have you read any of these YA novels that deal with mental health? Can you recommend other novels which have depicted mental illness with empathy? Share with us in the comments.

Namitha Rajasekhar

Namitha Rajasekhar

Namitha is a 12th-grade student. She has loved to read and write ever since she was a child and she wouldn’t know what she would have done without her books. Apart from reading, she likes to watch Netflix, play with her dog, and practice the cello – pretty normal for a 17-year-old (she hopes).