1. "Wintergirls" by Laurie Halse Anderson
Wintergirls is about teenager Lia Overbrook, who struggles with anorexia and self-harm. Cassie is Lia’s best friend, and when her dead body is discovered in a motel, Lia’s life is thrown into disarray as she must deal with everything while appearing to be healthy and happy to everyone around her.
Wintergirls is heartbreaking. The writing is haunting and poetic. Lia is like frost that starts in the dead of winter, creeping up the bottoms of windows and trees, Coke cans and apples left outside overnight; ethereal and glass-like in its beauty, frightening and lovely. I really like this book because the problem here is Lia’s messy life: Her friendships, family, guilt, her fear of the future, her longing for the past. Lia deals with anorexia and self-harm, yes, but that is only a symptom of her true troubles. This is a deep and sometimes scary book, but a rewarding one all the same.
2. "Try Not To Breathe" by Jennifer L. Hubbard
Try Not To Breathe follows 16 year old Ryan through the first year following his suicide attempt. Ryan is desperately trying to leave behind in the forgotten his dark struggles, but he is not being honest with himself and others about a few secrets he is keeping about his past. Then he meets Nicki, a strange girl who seems to have only one clear goal: Get in touch with her dead father. This odd friendship brings Ryan to face the reality of himself, and to do that, he must face the consequences of the secrets he has been keeping.
Quite possibly my favorite fictional novel that deals with Mental Health, Try Not to Breathe rings very true to the feelings, heart, and mind of a sixteen year old struggling with mental health and the aftermath of existing post suicide attempt. Ryan is real and his struggles, though not universal, are valid because of the truth of his character. The writing is excellent and I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read it.
3. "It’s Kind of A Funny Story" by Ned Vizzini
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about 16 year old Craig Gilner, a kid from New York who just wants to succeed in life. For him, this means attending the very prestigious Manhattan Executive Pre-Professional High School in order to get into a great college to get a great job and have a great life. The pressure soon becomes too much for Craig to bear and he finds he can’t eat or sleep, and one night, he nearly and penultimately kills himself. This lands him in a mental institution where he meets many other struggling teenagers and mentors, and learns a lot about himself and his life along the way.
This novel is excellent because the author found a way for Craig’s humor to shine through while he deals with his depression. Craig is brutally honest, which is refreshing. The setting is accurate, as are the characters and the emotions that charge the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I recommend this book to any teenager who feels like stress is controlling their life.
4. "Suicide Notes" by Michael Thomas Ford
The final book on this list follows 15 year old Jeff as he wakes up on New Year’s Day to find himself checked into the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. Jeff thinks this is a ridiculous mistake and blames everyone but himself. Regardless of the bandages on his wrists and the crumbles of his friendships as proof, Jeff maintains that this is all a cosmic mistake and he doesn’t belong with the other “crazies”, as he calls them. But as he follows through with his mandated time at the hospital, he begins to realize that maybe he does need to be there, and maybe the “crazies” aren’t all that… well, crazy.
This book is hilarious and regardless of the topic, at times very light-hearted. It is pretty stealthy in that way, though, and at times the emotional drama hits you in the face like a deer jumping onto the highway at night – you just didn’t see it because of the subtlety, but it was real and true and there all along, and now you have to deal with it. I love Jeff, he’s real and a funny kid, and he gets easier to get along with as the story progresses. A great read for anyone.