Book Reviews

Top 5 Portrayals of Mental Illness in YA novels

This is a very complicated topic because some books are quite explicit regarding the description of their characters and some others are not. I have included some books that say it “out loud” and some others that are more prudent about the problem of the characters. Let’s start with this journey, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

1- The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick

Pat Peoples, a -I must say- quite complicated person, embodies the frustration of coming from a long period in a mental institution. He struggled for a long time with a depressive disorder that basically un-did his life. Pat struggles every second of every day trying to find out what happened with Nikki -which I must say, is totally out of the picture-. Pat suddenly meets another person, -who also has some sort of problem- Tiffany, who is facing a post-traumatic disorder which also includes depression and a re-design of her life, after her husband passed away some time ago. I can not tell you how the book finishes, but I can tell you that the movie is quite attached to the book with some twists that I do not mind <3, so you must enjoy both. In the end, we all “need someone” next to us that can help us leave that hole we might be in.

2- Girl Interrupted – Susana Kays

This is a must -and I really mean it- that needs to be in your written and visual library. Most people are not aware that this movie -which is simply a “momentum” in cinematographic history- comes from a true story written by Susana Kaysen, who narrates her experiences in a psychiatric hospital during the 60s after being diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. This story moved me so much. I first saw the movie and then I discovered that it was based on a real story! How deep this is! The main character, Susanna, struggles not only with her situation, but has to struggle with everything surrounding her. Patients with eating disorders, dementia, depression, traumas, and many other situations will change the perspective of our life and will tell us how lucky we are. Imagine yourself surrounded by Polly, Cynthia, Lisa Rowe, Lisa Cody, Georgina, and Daisy, everyone with a different disorder, which did not contribute to Susana´s fast improvement, but surely made her feel not that alone in a very lonely place. I must say that the writer was very brave to have shared what she experienced, and now we can enjoy what is simply a masterpiece.

3- The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

This reading is one of those which has been a magical surprise. Now we can easily read it, but by the time of its publication, 1951 was not that magical. This book is written in a quite particular way, which might be considered raw and graphic, so almost 70 years ago caused many controversies for the way how the author addressed the main character’s struggle. Holden Caulfield a -only- 16-year-old kid, clearly obsessed with death, had just been expelled from high school, and besides the first one, he is obsessed with judging how “fake” society is, and how very unhappy the life he has to live. Alcohol and sex are all around this story and will mark Holden during his journey in the city. Sadly, after many bad choices, he decides to visit his younger sister, Phoebe. During his visit, Holden tells Phoebe that he would like to be “The Catcher in the Rye” some sort of protector for kids who play, revealing the dystopia of ideas that happen in his head. Phoebe is the one who can only bring the good things from him and causes a series of events that finally, will get him into a mental institution to recover from his disorder. This -personally- leaves the option of thinking that the actual Catcher in the Rye is not other but Phoebe.

4- The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

I know this might be a very mainstream book & movie, but the way how it addresses abuse, suicide, depression, drug abuse, and mental illness will always be a reference for all readers. We must not underestimate its style, a book that makes you feel identified when telling a story that is not yours. Though it might be seen as a common story, if we analyze it deeper, it has a deeper meaning. Each character has a complicated emotional situation that has caused in most cases, a degree of depression. We start with Charlie’s aunt (spoiler coming), who molested Charlie causing a mark on the main character. This mark forced Charlie to struggle with depression, anxiety, and also many other issues around him. Along with this, in the same house, his sister is a victim of physical abuse and experienced an abortion. His friend, Patrick will be a name that most of the LGBTQI community will not forget. Patrick experienced a severe case of depression after his in-closet boyfriend had to break up with him due to his father’s recent discovery. Patrick’s step-sister Sam, experiences a lack of self-esteem, which drives her into being with someone who doesn’t appreciate her. And last, we have Patrick’s, Sam’s, and Charlie’s “friends” who face illegal drug usage and also kleptomania, who is seen as quite normal by them. Added to this, Charlie needs to deal with the death of his best friend, who committed suicide before school started. This book and movie -I must say was quite an adaptation- shows how in danger young people are and how much help they need. In the end, “we accept the love we think we deserve”.

5- Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer

This book is simply amazing. It covers many emotions in just 368 pages. As simple as that. 368 pages that reflect so much fear, frustration, and natural emotions coming from traumatic situations, that will make you cry so much. Everyone should read this book. It addresses one of the successes that changed not only the United States’ life but the world’s life. All the security paradigms were rebuilt based on 9/11, but I can tell you, that Oskar’s life will never be the same after that September. That day made him lose his best friend. Oskar is a boy that has Asperger’s, so, for him, it is really difficult to get attached to other people. However, he did. The only person he was attached to was lost forever and will not come back. The movie itself is more explicit than the book, but Oskar’s portrayal was quite similar. In this story, he also has another important person that comes as very important for this post: his grandfather. The movie gives him a more active role, but he is a person that stopped talking after his greatest love died, reflecting a clear post-traumatic case. He tattooed a “yes” and a “no” on his hands so that he could answer some questions. I could not say that Oskar has had it very easy, but besides his father, his mom and grandmother have been always there to protect him. Because in the end, all of us will jump, once looking for new adventures, or others because are escaping from something.

6- The Eagle Tree – Ned Hayes

Fourteen-year-old March Wong knows everything there is to know about trees. They are his passion and his obsession, but the young autistic boy cannot resist the captivating pull of the Pacific Northwest’s lush forests just outside his back door.

March is devastated to learn that the Eagle Tree—a monolithic Ponderosa Pine near his home in Olympia—is slated to be cut down by developers. Now, he will do anything in his power to save this beloved tree, including enlisting unlikely support from relatives, classmates, and even his bitter neighbor. In taking a stand, March will come face-to-face with some frightening possibilities: Even if he manages to save the Eagle Tree, is he risking himself and his mother to do it?

I can tell you there is no easy way to portray mental illnesses in a book because it is a very complicated topic, but if we read more of it, we will be closer to understanding better what some people experience every day of their lives. So go ahead, and read any of these, and show your appreciation for those who have it harder.

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  1. Heyyy! Loved you r post 🙂 All these titles seemed great and I really want to read the catcher in the rye!!!!
    OMG!!!! The Perks of Being a Wallflower!!! I love that movie so so so so much!!!! It’s one of my favs! I get goosebumps whenever I think about this book and I have them as I’m writing this comment! I cried so so so much at the end! The last scene was so beautiful! When charlie says “we are infinite” I couldn’t help but start bawling my eyes out… I was talking about the movie to one of my friends and I started crying! I really really NEED to read the book!!!!!
    Thanks so much for doing the tag 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m happy you enjoyed it! For sure that book is a huge thing emotionally for me as well! Charlie will always be a character really close to my heart ❤️ I hope you enjoy doing it as well, can’t wait to read it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you have some great choices here. I have read most of those books and I just tried to think of which other ones are coming to mind. I think It’s Kind of a Funny Story will always be something that I associate with that theme.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent list! A lot of them I have yet to read, and also watch its movie adaptation. I did however read The Catcher in the Rye and ended up really enjoying it. 🙂 Although the whole book isn’t really about mental illness, it does have some interesting things to ponder related to that subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really happy that you liked the list 🙂 now regarding The Catcher in the Rye, depends on the perspective you use to analyze it, because even if the main character was not sick the entire time, he finishes in a mental institution, and I believe that it has a strong weight in the story. I recommend you to read Girl Interrupted, will like you 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re super right! I love The Perks of Being a Wallflower, so if you like YA you can read first Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, you’ll love it for sure! I’m so happy you liked this list!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved your post! However I must confess that I only know two parents of this list and I absolutely agree with you on them! Mr and Mrs Weasley are amazing! How can you explain this better with that moment when Mrs Weasley kills Bellatrix? That was my fave mom moment of all times! I really love your post and I’m now more interested in reading To kill a Mockingbird than before, so thanks for that 🙂 I totally loved your post!

      Liked by 1 person

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