Mental Health Awareness Month: 9 Books About Teens in Therapy

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, these YA titles depict teens in counseling, normalizing and demystifying the process for readers.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Many young people struggle with depression and anxiety, and now as their lives are upended—plans changed, routines abandoned, and friends isolated—prioritizing mental health is crucial. While books aren’t a substitute for individualized care (and teens and parents should reach out to their health-care provider if they are struggling), these YA titles depict teens in counseling, normalizing and demystifying the process for readers.

Who Put this Song On, This is my Brain in Love, and I Wish You All the Best covers

 

Deaver, Mason. I Wish You All the Best. Scholastic/PUSH. 2019. ISBN 9781338306125.

Gr 8 Up–A nonbinary teen is forced out of their house and finds love while starting over. Ben didn't expect their parents to be thrilled when they came out as nonbinary, but neither did they expect to be immediately kicked out of their home. They move in with their older sister whom they have not seen in a decade, begin attending a new school for the last semester of senior year, and choose not to come out to their teachers or classmates. Ben's plan to keep a low profile backfires when they are befriended by Nathan, a fellow student who may like them as more than just a friend. Written by an author who is nonbinary, this book stands out among current young adult offerings for its depiction of a nonbinary protagonist. Ben's anxiety after being kicked out of their parents' house will resonate with readers who have suffered trauma, as will their struggle in both loving their parents while also not trusting them after their reaction. The measured pace and conversational style of this book work well with its focus on Ben and their healing and growth during their final semester of high school. The romance that develops between Ben and Nathan is sweet, and readers will be rooting for the couple to have their happily ever after. Give to fans of Bill Konigsberg's The Music of What Happens or Adib Khorram's Darius the Great Is Not Okay. VERDICT A first purchase for most libraries.–Jenni Frencham, Indiana University, Bloomington

 

Gregorio, I.W. This Is My Brain in Love. Little, Brown. Apr. 2020. ISBN 9780316423823.

Gr 8 Up–Jocelyn Wu has a plan to save her family’s struggling Chinese restaurant in Utica, NY. With her father’s reluctant approval she decides to hire a summer intern to help out at the restaurant and increase its online presence. Enter William Domenici, new intern and aspiring journalist looking for a story. Will and Jos hit it off; although they are very different, they have a lot in common. Jos, an American-born Chinese girl, and Will, the son of a Nigerian doctor and an Italian lawyer, are both entering junior year of high school and don’t exactly blend into the background of their predominantly white, upstate New York town. Told in alternating first-person chapters, the story quickly immerses readers in the drama that unfolds over the course of the summer: Can the restaurant be saved? Will Jos and Will get together despite Mr. Wu’s strict rules? Issues of mental health also come into play. Will, diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when he was younger, has spent years learning how to manage his anxiety with the help of his therapist. It is his sensitivity to mental health issues that enables him to encourage Jos to seek help for her depression. VERDICT Deftly navigating issues of race and mental health, as well as giving voice to the reality of American teens born to immigrant families, many of whom grapple with different cultural and familial expectations, Gregorio, a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, has written a heartwarming foodie rom-com. Recommended for fans of realistic fiction.–Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn

 

Gulledge, Laura Lee. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr. Abrams/Amulet. Apr. 2020. ISBN 9781419734236.

Gr 7 Up–The “creative oddball” in a science-loving family, Mona uses astrophysics-inspired metaphors to understand her mental illness—depression is like a cloud of dark matter surrounding her, or a black hole collapsing in on itself. The Matter, as she calls it, keeps the teen from connecting with others, and sometimes it makes her physically sick. Therapy, together with her art, her writing, and a few determined friends, shows Mona that her most difficult moments can, with effort, become her greatest strengths. The realistic, grayscale art is evocative in its simplicity, with detailed expressions adding depth and occasional bursts of bright yellow turning Mona’s black holes into exploding stars as she gains self-worth. An inspired, empathetic storyteller, Gulledge (Page by Paige; Will & Whit) draws from her own experiences using art as an outlet for mental health issues. Though she never flinches from depicting the anguish of depression, she instills readers with hope, too, through a self-care plan and chapter headings that also offer advice (“Notice Your Patterns,” “Draw It Out,” “Break Your Cycles”). VERDICT This immersive portrayal of a sensitive teen learning to live with mental illness will earn nods of recognition from readers coping with anxiety or depression but will also resonate with young people facing any fear.–Kelley Gile, Cheshire Public Library, CT

 

Henry, Katie. Let’s Call It a Doomsday. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. 2019. ISBN 9780062698902.

Gr 9 Up–High school junior Ellis Kimball is prepared for the end of the world. She lives by the mantra “anything terrible is possible,” accumulating supplies to survive various forms of disaster. If she can save her close-knit Mormon family from the apocalypse, she reasons, it will make up for all the times that her anxiety disrupted their lives. What she’s not prepared for is meeting Hannah Marks in her therapist’s waiting room. Hannah claims that she knows how the world will end—and she’s had visions of Ellis standing beside her when it does. With the apocalypse looming, Hannah draws Ellis into a quest to find an elusive prophet to interpret her vision, as well as into her witty, diverse friend group. There Ellis meets bisexual Talmage, who helps her acknowledge her attraction to both boys and girls. But the closer the end of the world gets, the less concerned Ellis is with simple survival—she wants to define the kind of life she’s surviving for. Ellis is a whip-smart and compelling protagonist who grapples with deep questions about the nature of belief, identity, and control. This is one of the few YA titles with a Mormon protagonist, and Ellis’s faith is portrayed as a complex and meaningful part of who she is. Humorous dialogue and richly developed supporting characters add to the appeal. VERDICT Hand to fans of Courtney Stevens’s Dress Codes for Small Towns or John Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back. A first selection.–­Elizabeth Giles, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia

 

Kaplan, Ariel. We Are the Perfect Girl. Knopf. 2019. ISBN 9780525647119.

Gr 7 Up–Aphra Brown has the gift of conversation. She is clever and witty and always knows the right thing to say. Her self-proclaimed downfall is her nose—it is big and she's invariably self-conscious about it. Aphra's best friend Bethany is drop-dead gorgeous but lacks her friend's articulation. Bethany tends to clam up when talking to new people and can rarely hold a conversation with anyone but Aphra. What if these two friends could combine their strengths to snag the perfect guy, Greg D'Agostino? A faulty advice app and an innocent case of mistaken identity snowball into two girls winning over one guy under one identity. Will Greg ever find out the truth? Will Bethany and Aphra's friendship last this debacle? Who gets the guy in the end? Kaplan's third novel does not disappoint. Readers will find a lighthearted romantic comedy with a firework ending. The story progresses rapidly and instantly hooks readers while holding interest from beginning to end, and the novel hits on relevant themes including self-esteem, body image, and leaving your comfort zone. VERDICT Recommended for all readers, especially fans of Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before. A must-have for library shelves.–Melissa Lambert, Trenton Public Schools, MI

 

[Read: Helping Students Through Pandemic Grief and Trauma]

Let's Call it a Doomsday, The Beauty that Remains, We are the Perfect Girl covers

 

Mason, Lizzy. The Art of Losing. Soho Teen. 2019. ISBN 9781616959876.

Check out the review from "Teen Librarian Toolbox."

 

Parker, Morgan. Who Put This Song On? Delacorte. 2019. ISBN 9780525707516.

Gr 8 Up–Seventeen-year-old African American teen Morgan lives in the California suburbs and attends a private evangelical Christian high school. Her race makes her stand out in this very homogenous space. She is really into music and sees events in her life through that lens. Her music and clothing choices cause her to be seen as “not really black” by her peers, even though she very much sees herself that way, experiencing common microaggressions in her everyday school life and beyond. She has developed a close crew of outcast friends, but the one thing she isn’t comfortable telling them about is her suicide attempt over the summer. Medication is now making her life much easier. This title is based on the lived experiences of the author, a poet, which lends a poignant truth to the narrative. In spite of this, the representation of a suburban African American teen in these specific “outsider” circumstances is needed. In addition, this title will serve to open up conversations about black girls and mental health. VERDICT A worthwhile purchase for any collection where teen contemporary realistic fiction is popular. Give to fans of Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X.Kristin Lee Anderson, Jackson County Library Services, OR

 

Shippen, Laura. The Infinite Noise. Tor Teen. (Bright Sessions: Bk. 1). 2019. ISBN 9781250297518.

Gr 7 Up–A spin-off of the popular podcast The Bright Sessions, this touching and emotional novel expands on the story of Dr. Bright’s youngest patient, 16-year-old Caleb. High school used to be easy—Caleb was a pretty good student and a star football player. But it got a lot harder when he learned he’s an Atypical with an enhanced ability to sense and experience the emotions of those around him. It sounds great to be a superhero, but Caleb’s power isn’t so super. His trouble controlling negative emotions like anger and fear have led to fights and an inability to concentrate in class. Luckily, he has Dr. Bright, a therapist who works with Atypicals. She encourages Caleb to befriend Adam, a classmate whose emotions fit in with Caleb’s rather than overwhelming them. Alternating between Caleb’s and Adam’s points of view, the narrative approaches mental health, romance, and emotion with vivid language and strong voices. Though Shippen incorporates fantastical elements, she focuses on the inner lives of her characters, giving only the necessary world-building, making this an ideal crossover book to move readers between realistic romance and speculative fiction. Fans of the podcast will revel in this closer look at the lives of the characters, and readers new to the franchise will drop into this world without missing a beat. VERDICT Give this to fans of the podcast, as well as readers who enjoy Becky Albertalli’sSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Rainbow Rowell’s work, and Welcome to Night Vale. A first purchase for libraries that can’t keep romance or superpower books on the shelves.–Heather Waddell, Abbot Public Library, Marblehead, MA

 

Woodfolk, Ashley. The Beauty That Remains. 336p. Delacorte. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524715878.

Gr 9 Up–Bring out the tissues: this deftly written tale of three teenagers coping with love and loss will pull heartstrings. Logan, Shay, and Autumn are loosely connected by the now-defunct band called Unravelling Lovely. As the band has imploded, so have their lives. In alternating perspectives, this novel presents each character coping with the loss of someone vitally important to their own understanding of who they are in the world. Singer-songwriter Logan struggles with his anger and self-destructive impulses after his ex-boyfriend’s apparent suicide. Shay copes with her own fear and heartache after her twin sister, a music blogger, dies of cancer. At the same time, quiet, artistic Autumn has to break out of her shell of silence and self-control to find her way without her colorful best friend. The likelihood of three young people in the same world all coping with the tragic deaths of three different young people in their orbit definitely stretches the imagination. That said, the core characters live and breathe; they are contradictory, messy, and truly believable, making readers willing believe the premise. In her debut, Woodfolk has written a lovely and introspective coming-of-age novel that fully captures the way friendship, music, family, and romance dovetail to create a young person’s identity. The self- and life-defining nature of grief and loss captured so well by authors such as John Green is explored here with humor, intelligence, and grace. VERDICT An excellent selection for YA collections.–Sara Scribner, Marshall Fundamental School, Pasadena, CA

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Katy Hershberger
Katy Hershberger (khershberger@mediasource.com) is the senior editor for YA at School Library Journal.

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