Trigger Warning: This article discusses fictional experiences with mental health issues such as PTSD, BPD, anxiety, depression, and more which may be triggering for some readers. Please exercise personal care when reading.
Representation of mental health issues is becoming more and more prominent in literature. But even today, there’s a struggle for many to see themselves represented in books. This is particularly the case among the BIPOC community, who also disproportionately experience adverse conditions, such as discrimination and reduced access to healthcare, that lead to mental illness. In celebration of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Awareness Month, I invite you to check out these below books that center on BIPOC voices, amplify mental health resources for the BIPOC community, and take care of your own mental health by reading some of the books recommended below!
Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini
Moving from Trinidad to Canada wasn’t her idea. But after being hospitalized for depression, her mother sees it as the only option. Now, living with an estranged aunt she barely remembers and dealing with her “troubles” in a foreign country, she feels more lost than ever.
Everything in Canada is cold and confusing. No one says hello, no one walks anywhere, and bus trips are never-ending and loud. She just wants to be home home, in Trinidad, where her only friend is going to school and to Sunday church service like she used to do. But this new home also brings unexpected surprises: the chance at a family that loves unconditionally, the possibility of new friends, and the promise of a hopeful future. Though she doesn’t see it yet, Canada is a place where she can feel at home — if she can only find the courage to be honest with herself.
The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk
Loss pulled Autumn, Shay, and Logan apart. Will music bring them back together?
Autumn always knew exactly who she was: a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan has always turned to writing love songs when his real love life was a little less than perfect.
But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow, music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger who’s struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered. Despite the odds, one band’s music will reunite them and prove that after grief, beauty thrives in the people left behind.
Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
In Stephanie Kuehn’s brilliant debut Charm & Strange, Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.
He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost. He’s also part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.
Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present. Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths — that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying.
The Voice in My Head by Dana L. Davis
She can feel sorry for herself. Or she can listen to the voice in her head.
Indigo Phillips has always lived in the shadow of her identical twin, Violet — the perfectly dressed, gentle, popular sister. But when Violet becomes terminally ill and plans to die on her own terms via medically assisted death, Indigo spirals into desperation in her efforts to cope. That’s when she begins to hear a mysterious voice — a voice claiming to be God. The Voice insists that if she takes Violet to a remote rock formation in the Arizona desert, her sister will live.
Incredibly, Violet agrees to go — if their chaotic family tags along for the ride. With all nine members stuffed into a wonky old bus, including their controlling older sister and distant mother, Indigo must find a way to face the insecurities she’s spent a lifetime masking and step up to lead the trip. As she deals with outrageous mishaps and odd strangers along the way, Indigo will figure out how to come to terms with her sister, her family…and the voice in her head.
Hush by Jacqueline Woodson
Evie Thomas is not who she used to be. Once, she had a best friend, a happy home, and a loving grandmother living nearby. Once, her name was Toswiah.
Now, everything is different. Her family has been forced to move to a new place and change their identities. But that’s not all that has changed. Her once lively father has become depressed and quiet. Her mother leaves teaching behind and clings to a new-found religion. Her only sister is making secret plans to leave.
And Evie, struggling to find her way in a new city where kids aren’t friendly, and the terrain is as unfamiliar as her name, wonders who she is. Woodson weaves a fascinating portrait of a thoughtful young girl’s coming of age in a world turned upside down.
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
Moss Jeffries is many things: a considerate student, devoted son, loyal friend, affectionate boyfriend, and enthusiastic nerd.
But sometimes Moss still wishes he could be someone else; someone without panic attacks, someone whose father was still alive, someone who hadn’t become a rallying point for a community because of one horrible night. And most of all, he wishes he didn’t feel so stuck.
Moss can’t even escape at school. He and his friends are subject to the lack of funds and crumbling infrastructure at West Oakland High, as well as constant intimidation by the resource officer stationed in their halls. That was even before the new regulations; it seems sometimes that the students are treated more like criminals. Something will have to change, but who will listen to a group of teens?
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.
Leigh, who is half-Asian and half-white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.
Alternating between reality and magic, past and present, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a luminous debut novel about finding oneself through family history, art, bravery, and love.
An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi
An Emotion of Great Delight is a searing look into the world of a single Muslim family in the wake of 9/11. It’s about a child of immigrants forging a blurry identity, falling in love, and finding hope in the midst of a modern war.
It’s 2003, several months since the U.S. officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, FBI agents are infiltrating local mosques, and the Muslim community is harassed and targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears a hijab, keeps her head down. She’s too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.
Shadi is named for joy, but she’s haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of her heart — it’s broken. Shadi tries to navigate her crumbling world by soldiering through, saying nothing. She devours her own pain, each day retreating farther and farther inside herself until finally, one day, everything changes.
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews
A beautiful and capacious novel rendered in singular, unforgettable prose, All This Could Be Different is a wise, tender, and riveting group portrait of young people forging love and community amidst struggle; and, a moving story of one immigrant’s journey to make her home in the world.
Graduating into the long maw of an American recession, Sneha is one of the fortunate ones. She’s moved to Milwaukee for an entry-level corporate job that, grueling as it may be, is the key that unlocks every door: she can pick up the tab at dinner with her new friend Tig, get her college buddy Thom hired alongside her, and send money to her parents back in India. She begins dating women; soon developing a burning crush on Marina, a beguiling and beautiful dancer who always seems just out of reach.
But before long, trouble arrives. Painful secrets rear their heads; jobs go off the rails; evictions loom. Sneha struggles to be truly close and open with anybody, even as her friendships deepen, even as she throws herself headlong into a dizzying romance with Marina. It’s then that Tig begins to draw up a radical solution to their problems, hoping to save them all.
For more representations of mental health in literature, read here!