“Stop hiding in the darkness,
step out into the light.
The sky is filled with all these stars,
so come and kiss the night.
Infinity is waiting,
calling you by name.
The world is yours for the taking,
so take it just the same.“
~ Kyler’s song lyrics, in L.D. Crichton’s novel, All Our Broken Pieces
These latest YA novels cover a wide range of mental health issues and teen challenges with diverse, quirky and engaging characters who will make you laugh, make you cry, and leave a lasting impression on your heart. Honest, real, at times raw, all of these books will teach you something you didn’t know before, and give you a deeper appreciation for the complexities of mental health challenges. And knowledge and understanding are the keys to talking openly about mental health and erasing the stigma of mental illness.
If you are a teen and you, or someone you know, are experiencing difficulty and need support, you can call Canada’s Kids Help Phone at 1800-668-6868. You can also text a Kids Help Phone counselor at 686868. If you are a First Nations youth, you could also contact the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1‑855‑242-3310; they have phone counseling available in English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut.
If you are a parent or teacher who need information on how to help a young person in your life, you can visit the eMentalHealth.ca website to learn about different mental health conditions and to find support in your area.
For everyone, the TeenMentalHealth.Org is a phenomenal and comprehensive website dedicated to offering the most up-to-date, evidence-based mental health literacy information, research, education and resources to meet the needs of children, youth, young adults, families, educators, community agencies and health care providers. They even have information about how to cope during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
And always, if you or someone you know are in crisis, feeling suicidal or in immediate danger, please dial 911. Reach out. You are not alone.
Verona Comics, Dugan, Jennifer, 2020, 327 pages
With darker, ‘Romeo & Juliet’ overtones, this love story explores the relationship between Jubilee, a queer cellist prodigy and step-daughter of an indie comic book store owner, and Ridley, a socially anxious, bisexual boy whose abusive father owns the biggest comic-book store chain in the country. A diverse cast of supporting characters rounds out the novel, which captures the sweetness of first love, but also gives an honest portrayal of anxiety, suicide and other mental health issues.
This is My Brain In Love, Gregorio, I.W., 2020, 384 pages
Jocelyn Wu, aka Jos, a Chinese American high school student, meets Will Domenici, a Nigerian-Italian boy, when her family hires him to help market their failing Chinese restaurant. Immediately drawn to each other, Will also sees that Jos is struggling with more than just the stress of school and the family business. Deftly told in alternating voices, this novel takes a nuanced look at love, racism, microaggressions, the struggles of immigrant families and the stigma of mental illness.
Little & Lion, Colbert, Brandy, 2017, 330 pages
Suzette returns home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England; she just wants to forget the mess she left behind and hang out with her family and friends, especially her neighbour/crush, Emil, and her stepbrother, Lionel, who has just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As a mixed race family, Suzette and Lionel are used to getting strange looks, but they’ve always been close — “Little” and “Lion” to each other. But things become a lot more complicated and threaten their close relationship when Suzette and Lionel are attracted to the same girl, Rafaela. A deeply moving story, Suzette questions her sexuality, learns about confronting past mistakes, and how to navigate love, loyalty and mental illness.
For A Muse of Fire, Heilig, Heidi, 2018, 494 pages
In a rich, lush, magical world inspired by Southeast Asia during French colonialism, Jetta and her parents survive as travelling shadow puppeteers, telling ancient folktales to please the brutal Aquitan rulers of Chakrana, their homeland. But Jetta has secrets, like the ability to infuse her puppets with the spirit of the recently deceased, and a ‘malheur’, a madness, that drives her manic at times, and drags her into darkness at others. Hoping to cure her malheur at a magical spring owned by the King of Aquitan, Jetta, along with a smuggler named Leo, undertakes an epic journey as rebellions and uprisings rage across Chakrana and danger lurks around every corner.
Body Image Disorders
The New David Espinoza, Aceves, Fred, 2020, 323 pages
When a video goes viral of 17 year-old David Espinoza getting “bitchslapped” by the school’s bully, he vows to lose his skinny guy reputation and joins a gym. He is soon introduced to “gear” — steroids — by his new friend, Alpha, and becomes obsessed with building muscles, ignoring his friends and family. Aceves draws on his own personal experiences as a teen with muscle dysmorphia to create this gritty, and at times gut-wrenching, novel about bullying, toxic masculinity, male body image disorder, and the destructiveness of steroid addiction.
Miss You Love You Hate You Bye, Sher, Abby, 2020, 304 pages
Best friends, Zoe and Hannah, aka Hank, have been friends since elementary school, with Zoe as the popular, extroverted leader, and Hank the contented follower who idolizes her more vivacious and outgoing friend. But then Zoe’s parents divorce, and she returns from a summer vacation emaciated and with several unexplained cuts on her body. Hank, who is dealing with family issues of her own, does not know how to help her friend. As much about identity and friendships as eating disorders, this eye-opening novel demonstrates the turmoil of mental health challenges, but also the determination to find your way forward.
Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard, Brown, Echo, 2020, 294 pages
Almost defying description, Black Girl Unlimited is a powerful debut novel that injects magical realism into the harsh reality of poverty, systemic racism, violence, sexism, drug addiction and depression. Somewhat autobiographical, Echo Brown is a teenage wizard, who travels between two worlds: the East Side, where people are addicted to white rocks and the West Side where she attends a prestigious school with a teacher who believes in her. Despite a dark veil of depression that covers some people, including herself, Echo Brown shows readers true magic: resilience, hope and inner strength in the face of oppression and trauma.
Speak: The Graphic Novel, Anderson Laurie Halse (author), Carroll, Emily (illustrator), 369 pages
An adaptation of Anderson’s 1999 modern classic, Speak, this graphic novel adds a stunning visual layer to an already powerful story about a Grade 9 girl named Melinda who is shunned by her high school classmates after breaking up a big party. Unable to vocalize her dark secret about what really happened at that party, Melinda falls into a depression, experiencing nervous tics, intrusive thoughts, and an almost complete inability to speak at all. Through her art class, Melinda is able to begin dealing with the unspeakable, and eventually finds her voice to speak the truth.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
All Our Broken Pieces, Crichton L.D., 2019, 404 pages
From Canadian author L.D. Crichton comes a novel about Lennon Davis, a girl with severe OCD who has recently lost her mother, and Kyler Benton, the brooding boy next door, scarred by a childhood accident. Brought together by a school project, the two explore their feelings for each other while healing from past tragedies. A 2020 White Pine Award Nominee, Crichton’s story is a deeply satisfying and smartly written novel which you’ll never want to end.
Waiting for Fitz, Hyde, Spencer, 2019, 246 pages
Addie Foster enters an in-patient treatment program to treat her OCD, where she meets a fellow patient named Fitz, who experiences auditory hallucinations as part of his schizophrenia. As they get to know one another and bond over their love of words, Fitz asks Addie to help him escape so that he can find closure on a long-held secret. Suspenseful at times, but also touching and hilarious, this uplifting novel takes on two complicated disorders and helps normalize them for readers by creating compelling and memorable characters.
When Elephants Fly, Fischer, Nancy Richardson, 2018, 380 pages
To combat her fear of developing schizophrenia like her mother — a paranoid schizophrenic who attempted to kill her daughter before eventually killing herself — 18-year-old Lily has a 12-Year Plan to avoid stress: stay away from drugs, alcohol, boyfriends and anything else that might contribute to the disorder. However, Lily’s plan to live a safe, uncomplicated life goes awry when she becomes caught up in the fate of a 3-week-old elephant calf named Swifty, rejected by its mother and languishing in an uncaring circus. Well-written and heart-warming, Fischer’s novel demonstrates how compassion, love and courage can overcome fear.
The Place Between Breaths, Na, An, 2018, 181 pages
Grace King is a clever, driven 16 year-old girl, desperate to find a cure for schizophrenia, the disease which caused her mother to disappear when Grace was little, and which Grace now fears may overwhelm her as well. She earns a prestigious internship to the Genetium Clinic to help with gene sequencing in schizophrenia, but Grace may be running out of time, as she struggles to discern what is real and what is not. Told in shifting 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-person perspectives, this memorizing book will keep readers off-balanced and engaged to the very end.