Content Warning: Mentions stories involving depression, suicidal thoughts, abuse, and more.
If you are like me, you may enjoy books that feature characters and plotlines that are different from the people and experiences involved in our own lives. Writers like to call this a “window,” because you are getting a glimpse as to how others go through life. But oftentimes, we just want a book with characters who understand what we are going through, and we search for identity within these figures to parallel the events that transpire in our own lives. This type of literature is called a “mirror,” because a book will reflect ourselves in a way. After struggling with my mental health for many years and finding it hard to relate to and empathize with some characters, I turned toward books with characters experiencing what I was. I hope that you find this compilation of books that chronicle the days of characters facing opposition and stigma relating to their mental health interesting!
Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz
A personal favorite of mine, this novel follows the journey of perfectionist Molly Nathans, poet extraordinaire, who hopes that a prize-winning poem will bring her mother back home from her separation with her dad, and unite her family again. When Molly starts to crumble and realize the reality of her situation, she feels hopeless. Finding Perfect can help us understand that we are never really alone, and no matter how out of control we think things are, someone will always be there to get us.
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
In this touching story of adolescence and the social landmines of the teenage years, high school junior Samantha McAllister hides her OCD diagnosis from her uber-popular friends, afraid that they would never accept her if they knew. But when her thoughts and paranoia start spiraling out of control and keep her from living life, she will face a choice: stay safe in her room alone, or let the world see her for who she truly is.
Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullay Hunt
Nobody wants to seem like the “dumb kid,” right? Especially Ally, a middle schooler struggling with Dyslexia. But when one teacher shows her that she can have the power to believe in herself, she gains the confidence to realize that “smart” can take on many forms. A heartfelt tale, Fish in a Tree can show us ways to look at the world in a new light.
Rising Above by Elijah, Gabriel, and Gregory Zuckerman
In my last post, I discussed celebrities who have experienced mental health struggles. If you are interested in learning more, this book is for you! Follow the childhood journeys of 11 of the world’s best athletes and learn about how they overcame obstacles and trauma in their youth.
OCDaniel by Wesley King
Teenage Daniel goes about his life managing his “zaps,” or compulsions that cause him to stay up the whole night, repeating routines and switching light switches on and off till it “feels right.” But when an unlikely friend needs help solving a mystery, Daniel agrees to help. What they discover will not only change their friendship, but their lives as well. Touching on topics like anxiety, suicide, and depression, this powerful book can lift people up, and makes you laugh and cry all at once!
See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles
12 year-old Fern deals with the usual middle school drama: boys, friends, family, and growing up. But with her family slowly falling apart and her father unable to accept her beloved brother when he comes out as gay, she is miserable. When an unexpected tragedy crushes the family, they must learn to heal and to accept. Themes including LGBTQIA+, grief, and depression make this a powerful read.
Educated by Tara Westover (CW: Physical Abuse)
We’ve all had days where we wish we didn’t have to go to school. But what if you never even got the chance to have an education in the first place? Follow the incredible story of Tara Westover, as she deals with her family’s strict religion and scathing rules, abuse from her brother, and the challenge of achieving a premier education with everyone trying to hold her back. Eventually becoming a Gates Cambridge scholar and traveling across the globe to find herself, Westover will provide emotional viewpoints and heartfelt recollections.
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry So much of how we value ourselves has to do with how others perceive us. But what if you can’t control the noises and gestures you make around other people? Living with Tourette’s Syndrome, Calliope June is new in town (again) after her mother broke up with another boyfriend. She befriends the boy next door, Jinsong, and it becomes more than just a friendship. But even that can’t distract her from the fact that her TS is getting out of hand, and the kids at school are merciless. Forget Me Not tells a timeless tale in a modern format about fitting in and growing up.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Perhaps one of the most widely discussed texts of the past two decades, Chbosky’s novel is a heartfelt one that follows a socially anxious “wallflower” named Charlie. As high school becomes difficult for Charlie, he narrates the social climate with a touching and emotional commentary on all of the challenges that a teen is met with. While putting yourself out there is hard for somebody with social anxiety, Charlie comes to the realization that you only live once.
There you have it! Nine of the best fall reads for battling against harmful stigmas and hearing the stories of characters affected by mental health struggles. While some of these may be mirrors and some may be windows, I hope you find them all enjoyable!
If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7/365 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You are never alone.