In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are five fiction novels whose nuanced themes surrounding mental health create relatable stories without shouting “self-help.”
Rx by Tracy Lynn (Elisabeth J. Braswell)
“I was angry all the time about the future I didn’t want with people I didn’t like. But I didn’t know what I wanted – so what else was there to do?”
From the author of the acclaimed series The Nine Lives of Chloe King, Rx follows the story of Thyme Gilchrest as spirals into a Ritalin addiction during her final two years in high school. Despite being a member of the elite academic group, “The Twenty,” she doesn’t feel adept enough to compete for the highest SAT score or an early-entrance admission into college. But Thyme realizes she isn’t alone in her struggles when she finds herself as the school dealer to other high-achieving students. For those who are fans of the film, Charlie Bartlett, this novel reminds us that past high school, our scores, schools, and social standings don’t matter at all.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
“The world wasn’t going to give me something that tidy.”
Craig Gilner is depressed, anxious, and suicidal. When his suicidal ideation becomes too much to handle, he finds himself at a psychiatric hospital to confront his pain head-on. The hospital he once thought of as a “loony bin” becomes a home full of diverse and deep individuals whose stories help Craig gain perspective on his own traumas. Through the solitude of bathrooms, the complexity of maps, and the comfort of art, Craig learns that it is not fair to compare our traumas to that of others and that together, we can help one another see a world past that which is in our minds. This novel is based on Vizinni’s own experience in a psychiatric ward, and he sadly lost his battle with depression in 2013.
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
“Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go.”
A Long Way Down tracks the lives of four individuals who fatefully meet on a rooftop on New Year’s Eve. When they all realize that they are each there to end their lives, they make a pact to live six more weeks to see if anyone changes their mind. Through the regrets, confusion, and transformations that follow each of our protagonists, we are reminded that life will continue to change, for better or for worse, if only we give it time. We just have to encourage one another to give it the chance.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
“We are all crazy, I believe, just in different ways.”
For fans of psychological thrillers, The Silent Patient is narrated by Theo Faber, a psychotherapist observing Alicia Berenson, a famous painter-gone-mute after shooting her husband. The question remains: if Alicia will not speak, how are we to know what led her to such a breaking point? Through multiple points of view and Alicia’s diary entries, readers can piece together the puzzle of the supposed “woman gone mad.” However, it may just turn out that those who appear to be “normal” may actually be the most sinister.
You Don’t Live Here by Robyn Schneider
“Because the truth is always hard. Because being queer is hard, and coming out is hard, and it never stops being hard. The world keeps shoving into you. But you stand tall anyway. You take up space anyway.”
After her mother becomes a casualty during an earthquake, Sasha Bloom must rebuild her life under the roof of her strict and conservative grandparents. But when Sasha can’t keep up with who everyone wants her to be, she must decide whether she is willing to lose everything she has left to find her true self. With the help of her new friend Lilly Chen, Sasha realizes she is bisexual – a facet of herself that is both exciting and daunting. The only question is if Sasha accepts and loves herself, will it really matter if no one else does?
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