June 28, 2016

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Bibliotherapy for Teens: Helpful Tips and Recommended Fiction

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It’s been a quiet day at the reference desk at the rural public library where I work, but the hum begins to pick up as the afternoon wears on. Teens drift in, looking for books, movies, and video games. One of my regulars approaches me. He comes up to the desk once a month or so, and always for the same reason.

“Do you have any books on anxiety?” he asks.

I decide to skip the reference interview with him. The last time, it seemed to mute him and he ran.

“Sure let me show you,” I say, quickly heading toward the 600s. “Do you think any of these will be helpful?” There’s John Giacobello’s Everything You Need to Know About Anxiety and Panic Attacks, Lisa M. Schab’s The Anxiety Workbook for Teens, and Freaking Out: Real Life Stories of Anxiety, edited by Polly Wells.

“No,” he says, picking at the binding of the book nearest him.

“Can you give me any more details on what you might want?”

“Definitely not what I’m looking for,” he mutters as he disappears.

The next time he comes in, something is different. He makes eye contact. “Do you have any books on anxiety…Not information, but stories about anxiety? A novel?” he asks.

So he doesn’t want clinical information. He wants stories.

I go to the catalog, hoping to find one before I lose him. My search of the Novelist database, including the terms “realistic teen fiction” and “anxiety,” pulls up too many hits—and none seem quite right. The first has to do with superheroes. The next is about the “anxiety” of being in the popular group.

My friend starts turning away.

“Let’s have a look over here,” I say, heading to the teen space. I recently ordered a book with anxiety as a theme, and I know that the cover is blue. I scan the shelves. Blue, blue, blue. There it is—Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos. I’ve read it and know the context. I flip to the first page and point to the line: “I am a depressed, anxious kid.”

My friend takes it, then nods, turns, and slips away. For the moment, I feel triumphant.

The statistics on mental illness

This and other experiences I’ve had make me start thinking about teens, mental illness, and the potential of bibliotherapy. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH; 2012 data), approximately 2.2 million, or 9.1 percent, of U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Millions more endure other conditions.

While mental illness is clearly prevalent, a stigma persists. A recent article in Time, prompted by the suicide of actor Robin Williams, estimated that about 60 percent of those suffering from mental illness don’t seek assistance. Reading is not a replacement for professional therapy. But surely, the right books can help.

The next week, I have a teen shadowing me for an economics class assignment. She tells me that she might ask a lot of questions, that her mind works differently, and that she has Asperger’s syndrome.

She also tells me that someday she will write a book about having Asperger’s—but not now, because she isn’t allowed to shout “loud and proud” about her condition. Her parents warned her not to tell her peers.

This may be for her own protection. Kids with mental illness—kids with pills—can be confronted by others trying to buy or steal them. They can also be targets of ridicule.

She admits that her situation can be frustrating, isolating—like a dirty secret. I ask if she has read Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann and notice that she checks it out before leaving the library.

Several days later, teens gather for our library’s weekly movie making club. One girl travels from three towns over to be there. I don’t know her very well, but I do know that she is in foster care. Sometimes she shows up with her therapist. Often, she seems to be in need of attention one moment and eager to be alone the next—turning away would-be friends with a cutting comment.

She settles in with the other kids who are sketching out ideas on neon card stock and talking. I overhear one make a joke about rape. “Hey, lay off it,” the girl says. “Some of us have to live with bad memories.” The group falls silent.

I want to help her, and consider retrieving the Department of Health and Human Services info book, or finding the number for a local mental health organization. But she has a therapist already. Furthermore, she isn’t asking me for that information. A book might provide some comfort, though I know I don’t have the context or the rapport to confidently hand her the right one. Perhaps Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, or Stephanie Kuehn’s Charm & Strange.

If the books are out in the open, maybe she would stumble upon a useful title on her own. I decide to create a display, starting off with a list of the 16 disorders under the term “Mental Illness” provided by the National Alliance of Mental Illness website. The conditions currently listed range from anxiety and autism spectrum disorders to eating disorders and schizophrenia. Then I dig for teen novels related to these conditions. Many of my favorite authors are among them: Matthew Quick, Ellen Hopkins, Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

The next afternoon, all but two of the eight titles are gone. Were they taken by teens looking for themselves in the pages—or others seeking to recognize peers, friends, or family members? Did Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls end up with someone struggling with anorexia? Did Hilary T. Smith’s Wild Awake find its way into the hands of someone feeling manic? Is Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock being read by someone who had been abused?

The promise of bibliotherapy

The statistics about teens and mental illness are staggering. In addition to the 2.2 million who experienced depression within the past 12 months, according to the NIMH data, 25.1 percent of youth from ages 12 to 17 experienced some sort of anxiety within the same time period, whether it was generalized, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia, or something else. Nine percent had attention deficit disorder, and two percent had an eating disorder. The list goes on.

Can reading help significantly? To my mind, as both a librarian and a writer, the answer is a resounding yes. Fiction has a special magic to it—the ability to weave a world outside reality. To simulate experiences and outcomes. For someone who feels alone, a friend awaits within the pages—someone who says, “Yes, I’ve been there. Have gone through that. Am suffering along with you.”

Is my perspective on the power of bibliotherapy accurate? To find out, I went searching, talked to some people, and discovered promising research on the topic.

“We use books with parents and kids to promote the feeling that their problems are not isolated problems,” says Lisa Estivill, the director of Adolescent Therapeutic Education and After School Services at Washington County (VT) Mental Health Services. “Many of our kids have read books in class and with their clinicians to help them better contextualize their disabilities and/or validate their experience.”

While professionals agree that bibliotherapy isn’t a mainstream methodology or a replacement for professional therapy, it can be a beneficial part of the therapeutic process.

“Bibliotherapy can serve as an unobtrusive, non-threatening medium to help adolescents relieve their stress and increase their coping skills,” write Heidi L. Tussing and Deborah P. Valentine in their 2001 article “Helping Adolescents Cope with the Mental Illness of a Parent through Bibliotherapy,” published in Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. Tussing and Valentine write: “They (readers) gain insight, on the problem-solving and coping skills of the characters, subsequently applying this learning to their own lives.”

Books offering insights into a peer’s condition are also beneficial, says David Rice, children, youth, and family services education coordinator at the Ch.O.I.C.E (Changing Our Ideas Concerning Education) Academy, an integrated transitional mental health facility and education center in Vermont. Rice cites an experience he had when his students read Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin, a novel about a character who has Asperger’s syndrome. “Only one of the boys in class had Asperger’s, but the most profound aspect of the experience was what the other students learned about how his mind works, and how he corroborated with his peers what the character was feeling,” Rice says.

In Rice’s opinion, such experiences of bibliotherapy have far-reaching impact. “Though I have no concrete evidence of the effectiveness of bibliotherapy, through student responses and reactions, I would say it is not only helpful, but could also be profound,” he says.

Finding the right story

“Mental illness” is a vast term, and yet titles of all kinds are often placed in this catch-all category, which creates a challenge in retrieving the right book for a patron. Reading a book about a protagonist with an eating disorder is very different than reading one about someone with schizophrenia. Additionally, writers often steer clear of diagnostic terms.

On the one hand, I understand that not everyone fits into a label. As a creative writer, I hate labels. But as a librarian, I want to find the right book. A label, a category, would help.

Inspired by my book display, I set about creating a book list of realistic teen fiction with representation of mental illness organized by disorder. I have verified the category placement by MARC records, jacket copies, or, when those were unclear, confirmation by the authors themselves.

While I’m not claiming that books can be a substitute for therapy, within the right context, I believe they can serve as valuable touchstones, conversation starters, and companions. It is my hope that this list can help librarians, teachers, therapists, and teens better identify books to suit their specific needs. So that everyone might find a Dr. Bird—a companion on an often too solitary road.


Moulton-Erin-E_Contrib_WebErin E. Moulton is a teen librarian at the Derry (NH) Public Library and author of Chasing the Milky Way (Penguin Random House, 2014).

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Realistic Teen Fiction and Mental Health
A Book List

Anxiety disorder

Caletti, Deb. The Nature of Jade (S. & S., 2007)

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Anything but Typical (S. & S., 2009)

Colasanti, Susane. Waiting for You (Viking, 2009)

Herbach, Geoff. Stupid Fast (Sourcebooks Fire, 2011)

*Roskos, Evan. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets (Houghton Harcourt, 2013)

Schutz, Samantha. I Don’t Want to Be Crazy (Scholastic, 2006)

*also depression

Autism spectrum disorders

Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Does My Shirts (Putnam, 2004)

Erskine, Kathryn. Mockingbird (Philomel, 2010)

Franklin, Emily, and Halpin, Brendan. The Half-Life of Planets (Hyperion, 2010)

Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Doubleday, 2003)

Jacobs, Evan. Screaming Quietly (Saddleback, 2013)

Kelly, Tara. Harmonic Feedback. (Holt, 2010)

Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Rogue (Nancy Paulsen, 2013)

Miller, Ashley Edward. Colin Fischer (Penguin, 2012)

Roy, Jennifer. Mindblind (Marshall Cavendish, 2010)

Stork, Francisco X. Marcelo in the Real World (Scholastic, 2009)

Attention deficit disorder (ADD)/Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Costa, T.L. Playing Tyler (Strange Chemistry, 2013)

Page, Katherine Hall. Club Meds (Simon Pulse, 2006)

Rue, Nancy. Motorcycles, Sushi and One Strange Book (Zonderkidz, 2010)

Bipolar disorder

Hopkins, Ellen. Impulse (Simon Pulse, 2007)

Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places (Knopf, 2015)

Reed, Amy. Crazy (Simon Pulse, 2012)

Polsky, Sara. This Is How I Find Her (Albert Whitman, 2013)

Sones, Sonya. Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy (HarperCollins, 1999)

Smith, Hilary T. Wild Awake (HarperCollins, 2013)

Wilson, Jacqueline. The Illustrated Mum (Delacorte, 2005)

Wunder, Wendy. Museum of Intangible Things (Penguin, 2014)

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Depression

Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why (Penguin, 2007)

Cardi, Annie. The Chance You Won’t Return (Candlewick, 2014)

Draper, Sharon M. “Hazlewood High Trilogy” (S. & S.)

Ford, Michael Thomas. Suicide Notes (Harpercollins, 2008)

Green, John, and Levithan, David. Will Grayson, Will Grayson (Dutton, 2010)

Halpern, Julie. Get Well Soon (Feiwel and Friends, 2007)

Hubbard, Jennifer R. Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012)

Jenkins, A.M. Damage (HarperCollins, 2001)

Jones, Traci L. Silhouetted by the Blue (FSG, 2011)

McNamara, Amy. Lovely, Dark and Deep (S. & S., 2012)

*Quick, Matthew. Sorta Like a Rock Star (Little, Brown, 2010)

Sales, Leila. This Song Will Save Your Life (FSG, 2013)

Schumacher, Julie. Black Box (Delacorte, 2008)

Vizzini, Ned. It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Hyperion, 2007)

Wolitzer, Meg. Belzhar (Dutton, 2014)

*also PTSD and autism

Dissociative disorder

Cusick, John M. Girl Parts (Candlewick, 2010)

*Hopkins, Ellen. Identical (S. & S., 2008)

Leno, Katrina. The Half Life of Molly Pierce (HarperCollins, 2014)

*also eating disorders

Dual diagnosis: mental illness and substance abuse

Sáenz, Benjamin Alire. Last Night I Sang to the Monster (Cinco Puntos, 2009)

*PTSD and alcoholism

Eating disorders

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls (Viking, 2009)

Anonymous. Letting Ana Go (Simon Pulse, 2013)

Bell, Julia. Massive (Young Picador, 2003)

Colbert, Brandy. Pointe (Putnam, 2014)

Friedman, Robin. Nothing (Flux, 2008)

Hopkins, Ellen. Perfect (S. & S., 2011)

Jaden, Denise. Never Enough (Simon Pulse, 2012)

Kaslik, Ibi. Skinny (Walker, 2006)

Littman, Sarah Darer. Purge (Scholastic, 2009)

Metzger, Lois. A Trick of the Light (HarperCollins, 2013)

Reed, Amy. Clean (Simon Pulse, 2011)

Shahan, Sherry. Skin and Bones (Albert Whitman, 2014)

Vrettos, Adrienne Maria. Skin (S. & S., 2006)

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Ayarbe, Heidi. Compulsion (HarperCollins, 2011)

Chappell, Crissa-Jean. Total Constant Order (HarperCollins, 2007)

Harrar, George. Not as Crazy as I Seem (Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

Haydu, Corey Ann. OCD Love Story (Simon Pulse, 2013)

Hopkins, Ellen. Fallout (S. & S., 2010)

Karo, Aaron. Lexapros and Cons (FSG, 2012)

McGovern, Cammie. Say What You Will (HarperCollins, 2014)

Vaughn, Lauren Roedy. OCD, the Dude, and Me (Dial, 2013)

Wilson, Rachel. Don’t Touch (HarperCollins, 2014)

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

War and Death

Anderson, Laurie Halse. The Impossible Knife of Memory (Viking, 2014)

Avashti, Swati. Chasing Shadows (Knopf, 2013)

Doller, Trish. Something Like Normal (Bloomsbury, 2012)

Herbach, Geoff. “Reinstein Trilogy” (Sourcebooks Fire)

Morgenroth, Kate. Echo (S. & S., 2007)

Quick, Matthew. Boy21 (Little, Brown, 2012)

Reinhardt, Dana. The Things a Brother Knows (Random/Wendy Lamb, 2010)

Abuse/Assault

*King, A.S. Reality Boy (Little, Brown, 2013)

Kuehn, Stephanie. Charm & Strange (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013)

**Kuehn, Stephanie. Complicit (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014)

*Mesrobian, Carrie. Sex and Violence (Carolrhoda, 2013)

**Quick, Matthew. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (Little, Brown, 2013)

Perry, Jolene. Stronger Than You Know (Albert Whitman, 2014)

***Rainfield, Cheryl. Scars (WestSide, 2010)

Rainfield, Cheryl. Stained (Houghton Harcourt, 2013)

*also anxiety

**also depression

***includes self-harm/injury

Schizophrenia

Averett, Edward. Cameron and the Girls (Clarion, 2013)

Bock, Caroline. Before My Eyes (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014)

*de la Peña, Matt. I Will Save You (Delacorte, 2010)

James, Brian. Life Is But a Dream (Feiwel and Friends, 2012)

Schindler, Holly. A Blue So Dark (Flux, 2010)

Sheff, Nic. Schizo (Philomel, 2014)

Suma, Nova Ren. 17 & Gone (Dutton, 2013)

Trueman, Terry. Inside Out (HarperCollins, 2003)

*also PTSD

Tourette syndrome

Ayarbe, Heidi. Compromised (HarperCollins/HarperTeen, 2010)

Friesen, Jonathan. Jerk, California (Speak, 2008)

Note: I was unable to identify realistic teen fiction titles for borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. Feel free to suggest titles in the comments section.


This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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Comments

  1. I would recommend adding ‘Counting by 7s’ to the ASD section. It is a beautiful story, highly accessible writing and emotionally rich.

    • Thanks, Cass! I will add Counting 7s to the ASD list and confirm with the author. It’s funny because the description just mentions eccentricity and genius. Both of those descriptions often seem to add up to the ASD diagnosis, but I wonder if it mentions autism in the text. Do you remember? It looks like a fantastic read. It’s one of those instances where I wouldn’t find it had you not mentioned it. Thanks for recommending it.

  2. I am a school librarian in South Africa and just want to say well done – this excellent post. Thank you for the book recommendations, some I already know, but many more I know I will be glad one day that I found today. :)

    • Thanks Sue! I am going to be going back through our collection as well to make sure I have representations of at least a couple from each category to put out in May (Mental Health Awareness Month).

  3. Thank you for the information and invaluable lists. We recently put on a large display of books on mental illness, (with signs grouping books by topic/disorder) for a senior research class. Most of the books got picked up by other students before the class even met! Very illustrative. The other upside was that with the graphic signs, those students who ordinarily would have been hesitant to voice their requests, didn’t have to do so. Would add Babysitter Murders by Janet Young to OCD.

    • I’m so glad you had a successful display, Lee. I found the same thing. I think this and my Halloween/Horror display may have been my best circulating ones all year. I might steal your signage idea for the next time the display goes up :).

      I will check out Babysitter Murders! The description sounds fascinating/harrowing.

  4. Please check out my (traditionally published) YA books, COURAGE IN PATIENCE and HOPE IN PATIENCE, which deal with PTSD, recovery from childhood sexual abuse, the powerful connection between a talented therapist and his patient, and disassociation. My 2014 release, BIG FAT DISASTER, deals with compulsive overeating, bulimia, and suicide ideation, and bullying. Chapter previews of my books are available on my website. Thanks!

  5. Ms. Moulton, this is such a thoughtful and important article. I teach college writing, and in my developmental courses have always used SPEAK, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME and THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. These books connect with students who have endured similar circumstances – and as importantly – foster compassion in those who may not share these experiences. Full disclosure: I’m also a traditionally-published YA author. My novel, THE NAMESAKE, centers on Evan Galloway, a 15-year-old grappling with in the aftermath of his father’s suicide. Along with the loss of his dad, he deals with bullying – and the discovery that his father was the victim of childhood sexual abuse. You can learn more about the book on my website. It may be one you’d like to add to your list. In the meantime, thanks on behalf of all those teen readers you’re helping. All best, Steve

  6. Hi Beth and Steve,
    Thanks for letting us know and for writing your books.

    Best,
    Erin

  7. I’d like to throw THESE GENTLE WOUNDS into the PTSD list (Abuse/anxiety/depression). This is such a very important topic and I’m so glad to see that lists like this are being put together.

    • Hi Helene,

      I will add it to the master list! These are great recs, guys. We’ll have a working resource before too long!

  8. Leslie Carloss says:

    This may be for younger teens, but the Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans features a main character with Tourette Syndrome.

    • Hi Leslie!

      Yes, I remember Michael Vey having a main character with Tourettes. This list is only realistic fiction. If my memory serves me, Michael Vey is sci fi? It’s a fun read, to be sure.

  9. Lesley Martin says:

    Thanks for this article and the booklist which is really helpful to me as a school librarian.
    I don’t know if it is available in the US, but When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conley features a protagonist with Tourettes and supporting characters with other mental health conditions. It is very much for older teens/adults and has a lot of swearing but is a very powerful and moving book.
    Perfect by Rachel Joyce features a main character with OCD. Although it is an adult book, it would be enjoyed by teens – the story alternates between childhood and adulthood.

    • This is great, Lesley. I had a really hard time finding realistic fiction books with Tourettes and ADHD. Nice to have another to add to one of the lists.

  10. EMILY Leblanc says:

    I just wanted to say thank you soooo much for writing this book list. I love reading about mental illnesses and gaining a better insight on them. Mainly because I’m a psych major, but also to better understand the people around me. And as someone who has suffered her share of illnesses, mental and physical, bibliotherapy has always been an amazingly effective escape. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it, but I’ve learned that books can heal you. I often find myself looking for books like these to no avail. It’s so difficult to be able to tell which books are the ones that are right for me. This list will definitely be put to good use. Again, thank you so much. I will definitely be reading some of these.

    • Not a problem, Emily. I am so glad that books have helped you. They have helped me as well, especially during rough times in my life. Happy reading!

  11. This list (and these comments) lists are great, and so helpful!
    You mentioned that you did a Novelist search but found it too time-consuming–in those moments, Novelist’s Recommended Reads lists might be a faster route to the books your teens are looking for. There are lists about Life on the Spectrum and The Disability Experience (mental and physical) included in the “All Kinds of Lives” section, and under “Realistic Fiction” there are several lists that address living with grief, trauma, and mental illness.

    • Where is that list, Rebecca? This will prove a valued resource for me.

    • Ah yes, thanks for the reminder, Marla. Those are great lists as well. Just not quite as specific as I needed in this particular instance. I like the realistic fiction book list, especially the death and dying and the body image list!

      • Woops! I meant the first response to be to Rebecca! Marla, when you go into Novelist, the recommended read lists are on the left. You can specify age for different lists. Lots of good ones there, too!

  12. I’d also recommend ‘Cut’ by Patricia McCormick – deals with self-harm. http://www.amazon.com/Cut-Patricia-McCormick/dp/0545290791/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415806686&sr=1-1&keywords=cut

    • Thanks so much for mentioning CUT, Vanessa. I have read that one, but it was quite awhile ago. Do you remember if the self harm was a symptom of PTSD or another disorder? If you don’t remember, I can email Patricia.
      Right now, the DSM 5 does not include Self Harm as a separate illness, though it is listed in the section for further study, thus I didn’t create a separate category for it. I wonder if there should be a self harm book list. Cheryl Rainfield mentioned that there are lots of teenagers who go through this and it would be great to have a long booklist for those looking.

  13. Sharon Mellinger says:

    I would like to add ‘Bruised’ by Sarah Skilton under the PTSD section. A High School girl witnesses a hold up and shooting.
    Not only does she not remember what really happened, she feels guilty for not preventing the shooting.

  14. Just curious, what did your display look like? I want to do one as well, but I’d like to do so in a way that is tasteful and not offensive. Does anyone have any displays like this that they would be willing to share?

  15. Thank you so much for this! It would have been great to just read the article as a reminder that fiction can and should be suggested for growth, succor, and learning, but to then give us your book list is invaluable! As teen librarians, we reinvent the wheel too frequently, and sharing things like this list is so helpful–I can check to see which of these books I have, perhaps order some I don’t that sound valuable, add my own library’s details about location, and have a book list I didn’t have to painstakingly research and create myself! Kudos to you, and to SLJ for publishing this, too!

  16. Thank you, thank you, love the list!
    Other additions on the ASD spectrum might include The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman, Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly, and the Wild Orchid books by Beverly Brenna. Another one for OCD is A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie by Matt Blackstone.

  17. Erin, this list is a godsend. Thank you so much for putting it together. WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST by Jason Reynolds features a supporting character with Tourette Syndrome.

  18. Wow, this is a great post! I have struggled with an eating disorder for over 10 years, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that reading many of the books listed above helped me feel understood, aven when I was feeling very much alone.

    • Lydia,
      I am so so glad you found the books you needed. Thanks so much for sharing the effects they had on you and if you have any books to add–that you felt were particularly influential– let me know and I will make sure they go on my master list so others can find them and connect to them, too.

  19. *even

  20. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds is another good one for Tourette’s. Three teen boys growing up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. One is nicknamed Needles, not because of drugs or anything like that, but because knitting helps him deal with his tics and outbursts.

  21. Erin…. the two nonfiction books I told you about are:
    The Asperkid’s SECRET Book of Social Rules and
    Asperkids, both by Jennifer Cook O’Toole.
    Thanks again for writing this article. The teens are so fortunate to have you as their librarian.

  22. Controlled by Patrick Jones (The Alternative Series) includes borderline personality disorder.
    Thank you for the comprehensive list of books.

  23. Erin, this is a fabulous post and resource! Thank you! There is no question in my mind that reading about characters suffering from mental health issues reassures those who share it, and informs those who don’t. Under depression, you may want to consider BLUE FISH by Pat Schmatz, HOLD STILL by Nina LaCour and Jo Knowles’ LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL- which could also go under “abuse.” FALLING INTO PLACE by Amy Zhang, BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS I’LL BE DEAD by Julie Ann Peters, and the January ’15 release, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga are good reads about depression and suicide.

    • Hey Ann! Thanks so much for stopping by. And do you have an upcoming book featuring depression as well??
      I would put Jo’s LESSONS under PTSD, for sure. What’s interesting is that most of these have a subject heading of Emotional Problems instead of specifying depression. Another group of tricky to locate books!

  24. floatingclouds says:

    This was a well written, thought provoking and valuable article, and I enjoy the booklist. I was especially enthused about 2 subjects the author broached: 1) conducting emotionally sensitive, respectful, properly tailored and age appropriate readers advisory geared towards young adults. and 2) the idea of biblio-therapy! We often forget that teens may not be clearing articulating or clarifying exactly want they mean or want. It is easy, as a caring professional, to jump in much too quickly and make assumptions about what the young adult is asking for, instead of actively paying attention and listening, and asking a few short reference interview questions, to help them solidify and articulate their desires…done without inadvertently shaming, humiliating, frustrating or scaring the teen customer away. I love how the author was sensitive to this need, and was considerate enough to realize that the teen was not asking for self-help or non-fiction books, something many librarians would have wrongly assumed, and provided the teen with a false positive_handing them a book about the subject they asked for, and sending them on their way, without providing them with what they really wanted. Sometimes asking a question like: are you studying about depression in school?, or, are you researching this subject because you are assigned to write a paper about it, might help prompt the teen to answer_no, this is not for school, which would in turn help the librarian to realize the teen is interested in fiction.

    Also, many teens enjoy reading about colorful characters, and survivors, who have mental health issues, as a form of biblio-therapy, even though, they themselves, may not have mental health issues. Reading about an outsider who finds ways to survive and cope; is of interest to most teen readers, searching for their own self-actualization in a sometimes confusing world.

    Kudos to Erin for being a considerate and thoughtful teen librarian!

  25. Thanks Floating,

    I feel like I stumbled with that first patron multiple times before actually getting him what he needed. It seemed like when I asked a question it almost came off as prying and, inadvertently, sent him running for the door. Now, when teens are looking for the mental health books or mental health themed books, I tend to start by saying something like “Oh yes, we have a lot of great books on that topic,” or “oh yeah, lots of my favorites are in that category. Let’s see if we can find the book you’re looking for” and then roll out the reference interview. Starting with the positive foot forward seems to help the teens I work with open up a little bit. I have also read heavily in the section, so now I think I can tailor my questions more accurately. And now “are you looking for fiction or nonfiction” is one of the first questions I ask. My hope is that one day it will be one of those things we can all talk about with much more ease. I think books can help with that.

    Thanks for reading.

  26. Thank you so much for this article and to everyone for the suggestions! I’m working on creating a Resource List of these titles and filing it under “Bibliotherapy”. This is most excellent.

  27. Please add my book THINGS I SHOULDN’T THINK to the list of titles on OCD (Atheneum, 2012; published in hardcover 2011 as THE BABYSITTER MURDERS). It deals with a very common but little-discussed aspect of OCD: unwanted thoughts of harming others. People (including kids!) who have these thoughts have trouble getting treatment because many counselors and therapists don’t recognize the symptoms as OCD. Also, a young person would be highly unlikely to even tell anyone that she or he was having thee thoughts. Having suffered from this form of the illness myself, I thank you for bringing it to the attention of librarians.

    Also, ADD, autism, and Asperger’s are not mental illnesses and should not be added to your list. That would be like calling dyslexia a mental illness. One way to distinguish mental illness from other conditions is that mental illness is temporary, or can be with the right treatment.

    • Hi Janet,
      Thank you so much for the recommendation. Someone else had also mentioned Babysitter Murders. Sounds fascinating! I’ll add it to the list and make sure we get it for our collection.

      As to the categorization of Aspergers, Autism, and ADD/ADHD as mental illnesses: They are categorized as such in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Illness, as well as categorized as mental illnesses by the National Institute for Mental Health(http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml). I also used NAMI as a resource in my research (http://www.nami.org/). NAMI describes a mental illness not as something that is temporary but as “a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” Something like dyslexia is a learning disability. ADD and Autism and LD are often coexisting conditions, so the differentiation can be difficult. Since the science around mental illness is growing and changing, perhaps someday they will not be categorized as mental illnesses, but all the sources currently note that they are.

      • Thanks for the thorough reply, Erin. This information is a real eye-opener for me. I see that the reference book I usually consult, YOUR MENTAL HEALTH: A LAYMAN’S GUIDE TO THE PSYCHIATRIST’S BIBLE, based on the DSM-IV (now outdated, I know, but I love the book and it isn’t going to be revised), lists Asperger’s, ADHD, and autism. It also lists mental retardation, which, like Asperger’s, I would have considered a trait rather than an illness. As a novelist with a strong interest in not only mental illness but society’s perceptions of it, I’m fascinated by these definitions. I appreciate the discussion you’ve opened here.

        • Hi Janet,
          It’s definitely interesting to look at the different version of DSMs isn’t it? Categorizing really fatigues me, but as I mentioned, I think that it is useful in the aspect of retrieving the accurate information for a patron. I am also interested in society’s perceptions of mental illness vs. the industry’s definitions and how they have morphed over time. They will no doubt morph again. Have you read “The Book of Woe?” It’s an interesting perspective. Peek: An exposé of the psychiatric profession’s bible from a leading psychotherapist, “The Book of Woe “reveals the deeply flawed process by which mental disorders are invented and uninvented — and why increasing numbers of therapy patients are being declared mentally ill.

          For the time being, though, I figured I would stick with their working list.

  28. A couple of additional titles for eating disorders would by Perfect by Natasha Friend, (Scholastic 2006) ;Skinny by Donna Cooner (Scholastic, 2012); Obsessive compulsive (hoarding)The butterfly clues by Kate Ellison (Egmont, 2012). Any of the books that I have read by Natasha Friend have dealt with family problems such as alcoholism, step-families which are not really dealt with on your list but have definitely been received and enjoyed by any student that I have recommended the books to.

  29. Thanks so much for this. It hits me on two levels. As a teen who was super anxious I could have so very much used books like this. I am so glad that 20 years later so much more is available. As a librarian and a parent, I also thank you. This is incredibly useful and I hope it makes the rounds.

  30. Kimberly Day says:

    This is such a fantastic and inspiring article. Thanks for writing it! I’ve always felt that fiction is a much better form of therapy than non-fiction for teens seeking help (but don’t really want to ask). Now I’m off to make sure we have these titles on the shelves!

  31. Hello,
    I just wanted to say thank you for these wonderful recommendation of books, as I am a student struggling with Anxiety Disorders. However my only main concern is that none of these books have people I can relate to when it comes to ethnicity, I am a 19 year old female African American teenager and I was wondering if you could find a book that would relate to me not just in mental illness but also in race.
    Thank You

  32. Ellie Teaford says:

    What a great article. I am going to make sure we have most of these books in our library system. I thought of additional book.
    The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez. It is about a boy with an eating disorder. I think most of the others mentioned are about girls. He is also dealing with other issues.

  33. Holly Thompson says:

    Erin, this is a wonderful, thoughtful article and book list that I missed when it came out, so I am commenting rather late! Would you please add my verse novel ORCHARDS which deals with bipolar disorder and depression. A few other comments, instead of PTSD, I would be inclined to call the PTSD category “Trauma/PTSD.” And I would also suggest removing Tourette Syndrome from a mental health list–Tourette Syndrome is a neurological condition, and while TS is often accompanied by co-occurring diagnoses of OCD or ADHD that would fall under the mental health category, this is not always the case. Thank you again for this article and list. I hope this list or a version of it is continuously updated! It is a great resource for teachers, librarians, students and caregivers.

  34. Thank you for this comprehensive list. I am a metal health therapist. I have not read through all the comments to see if anyone else weighed in on this – but just wanted to suggest that it is best not to pathologize BPD in teens and that is why you wouldn’t find books on this disorder. It is not appropriate to diagnose BPD and most personality disorders in adolescents. PD’s are pervasive and some would argue almost untreatable; not a message of hope you’d like to send to teens especially before they have stopped developing. Teen behavior is by nature impulsive, exploratory, boundary pushing, defiant, etc…and as teens learn to cope with their often conflicting emotions many erratic behaviors can look like they have BPD or Bipolar DO. BPD is the most commonly diagnosed personality disorder, far more than the others which is telling. In my clinical opinion, many BPD traits can be better accounted for by other mental health issues, e.g. insecure attachment to caregivers, trauma histories.

  35. hi there! thank you so much for this list!! however, I was wondering if you could have any suggestions of books regarding self-harm and or suicide?

  36. Remember Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Hesser? (OCD) and how about Rules by Cynthia Lord (autism).
    This is a fantastic list, it’s organization works for any library layman, and we have used it many times already. Thanks for compiling it Erin!

  37. Also, (for the younger crew), Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (ADD)…