YA & Mental Health
As it’s World Mental Health Day today… recommended YA reads on the topic. This list was originally published in Inis #44 (April 2015).
All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven (Penguin, 2015)
A relationship between a grief-stricken girl and a bipolar boy prompts an adventure into seeing the beauty in life, without dismissing its pain.
Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson (Scholastic, 2011)
An intense and difficult journey inside an angry anorexic mind. Haunting and beautiful.
I Was Here – Gayle Forman (Simon & Schuster, 2015)
When your vibrant best friend commits suicide, there are questions that need answering.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan (Penguin, 2012)
Alongside zany musicals and romance, this dual-viewpoint novel explores depression.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini (Disney, 2007)
A suicidal high-achiever finds himself in a psychiatric hospital, where he begins to recover.
Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher (Penguin, 2009)
This sometimes-problematic but thought-provoking novel explores the reasons behind suicide and our responsibilities to one another.
Scarred – Julia Hoban (Piatkus, 2010)
After the loss of her parents, Willow turns to self-harm.
I don’t want to be crazy – Samantha Schutz (Scholastic, 2010)
A novel in verse relates surviving the first year of college with panic disorder.
Improper Order – Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island, 2013)
Sullivan’s second novel handles self-harm and grief with a light but sensitive touch.
Tyranny – Lesley Fairfield (Walker, 2011)
This graphic novel conveys the horrors of anorexia and the gap between perception and reality.
Book review: Another Day
David Levithan – Another Day
I adore David Levithan’s work. He writes gorgeous prose about teenagers dealing with love and other disasters, and offers up optimism and hope alongside acknowledgement of the hardness of life. In this book, the companion to Every Day, we see what it’s like to be a girl stuck in a relationship that isn’t obviously abusive but isn’t healthy, a girl who wants and needs love and support but isn’t getting it, and what happens one day when her boyfriend’s body is taken over by someone else: A.
A shifts bodies daily, never knowing whether they’re going to be male or female, black or white, gay or straight, able-bodied or disabled, or a whole range of other things. A has a unique take on the world: but is it possible to love someone just for their mind and not the body they’ve wound up in that day? And is it even fair to the people whose bodies A inhabits to try to make a connection last?
This book invites the reader to think about love, and identity, and souls, and to ponder how much of attraction is to do with the physical body. However, Every Day did all that as well, and Another Day, while a great read, doesn’t feel sufficiently different: this is territory we’ve visited before, and getting Rhiannon’s take on it doesn’t offer up anything particularly new, except perhaps at the very end. We empathised with Rhiannon in the first book, and could imagine things through her eyes; there isn’t much more than we get from the same events related to us in her voice. The opportunity to address issues around the female body isn’t really taken, either, and Rhiannon’s comfort level with A taking over her body for a day doesn’t quite ring true. I would suggest reading one or the other, rather than both: they ask many of the same questions but not enough different ones.
(There is a sequel about A coming soon, which will be interesting…)
Unless we count as ‘Here Are The Young Men’ as YA, which occasional bookshops have, this is a mostly-YA-ish post.
Rob Doyle – Here Are The Young Men
I had similar feelings when reading this as I did when reading Melvin Burgess’s Doing It – which is to say that it often looks at some seriously assholeish behaviour in men, honestly and unflinchingly, which books need to, but as a female reader well used to the real-life consequences and potential dangers of such behaviour, it’s unsettling. The novel focuses on a group of male students the summer after their Leaving Cert, mostly in Dublin – lots of drinking and drugs and sex, alongside philosophical musings and a particularly psychopathic character, Kearney. The second half of the book felt a lot stronger story-wise, when it pushes into more extreme territory (oh Kearney), and I enjoyed it a lot. Dysfunctional young folk, yay!
Amy Zhang – Falling Into Place
Liz seems to have the perfect life – so when she drives her car into a tree one day, everyone is curious about why. The omniscient narrator works well at delving inside a number of different heads as well as giving us insight into what’s been going on with Liz over the past months and years, and it explores the difficulties of adolescence in a compelling way. One of my favourite YA reads of 2014.
Vanessa Barneveld – This Is Your Afterlife
Keira never knew she could see ghosts – until her crush, the star of the football team, turns up in her bedroom. He can’t remember his death but is sure he’s been murdered – and it’s up to Keira to help him solve this mystery. A quick read.
David Levithan – Two Boys Kissing
The Greek chorus narrative style of this works really well, as over the course of two boys – who are friends but also exes – trying to set a world record for the longest kiss, several couples and individuals have their own stuff going on. There are new relationships, old ones, secrets, loneliness… all handled beautifully. A gorgeous read about LGBTQ youth and history, as well as love, identity and adolescence.
Oh, so much catching up to do on books I have read in the last… several months. Let’s get started!
Anne-Marie Conway – Forbidden Friends
For 9-12s, this is a story about two girls whose families are bound together by an accident that happened years ago. When they meet on holidays, they have no idea of the secrets they’re about to uncover… cue ominous music. Told from dual perspectives, it does a good job at getting inside both their heads and exploring their concerns. Would be interested to read her other books.
Meg Rosoff – Picture Me Gone
Latest Meg Rosoff is dreamy and quirky, focusing on a watchful and precocious twelve-year-old girl on a road trip with her father to find a friend of his. The adult world is filtered through her sensibilities and it does that very unusual thing in YA of being about a younger character who benefits from being read by an older reader (see also: Emma Donoghue’s Room and John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which are not YA but work in a similar fashion). Not much happens, but it is a lovely read.
K.A. Tucker – Ten Tiny Breaths
New adult. Kacey’s haunted by the deaths of her parents in a car crash, and has run away with her younger sister – she’s old enough now to take care of them both. She’s tough – for which read: dysfunctional – and she doesn’t let anyone in. So why does hot new neighbour Trent get to her so much? And as they get closer, it becomes clear he has secrets of his own… (dun dun DUN!)
This was a good read, but formulaic enough – I have yet to be wowed by NA.
David Levithan & Jonathan Farmer – Every You, Every Me
Oh David Levithan, how you love the collaborations. This is a blend of text and photo and it’s about this girl who is no longer around, and we’re left wondering why…
Shocking confession: I was not mad about this. Obviously there are gorgeous bits in it, it being a Levithan book, and there are some cool typographical things done that work really well, but there was nothing overly surprising in there and it lacked some of the loveliness of his other books.
Julie Halpern – Have A Nice Day
Sequel to Get Well Soon, which I adored. Anna’s just out of the psychiatric hospital and back in the real world, dealing with all the issues there – I loved this thematically but was less adoring of its execution.
Maureen Johnson, John Green & Lauren Myracle – Let It Snow
Three novellas by three YA writers of joy. I’d read work from all these writers before. I was underwhelmed in the extreme. They’re fluffy holiday stories – competent but not ‘wow’ worthy in the way that I’d expect from these guys. And also no redeeming cheerleaders whatsoever. Meh.
Right. Next book-review post I promise there will be something gush-worthy instead of ‘ah yeah, sure it’s grand’.
All YA this time around, including two I read a while back for the CBI Bookfest Recommended Reads, so held off on posting here ’til that came out. Print reviews are in italics, extra comments are… extra.
David Levithan – Every Day
Every day, A wakes up in a different body. For sixteen years, that’s all A has ever known – shifting from one person to another, taking over their body and life and trying not to do too much damage. But today A meets Rhiannon – the mistreated girlfriend of Justin, whose body A is inhabiting. And today A falls in love. What happens next is fascinating and wise and thoughtful and pretty much everything you would expect from a David Levithan novel. Despite the fantastical element, it’s still very much grounded in our world, with lots of musings on identity and love. Well worth reading.
Laura Jarratt – Skin Deep
Fourteen-year-old Jenna is scarred, psychologically and physically, from the car accident eight months ago that left her best friend dead. When Ryan arrives into town with his New Age traveller mother, he’s the one person who treats Jenna like she’s normal. He’s also the one the police suspect when a body is found. Jenna and Ryan’s burgeoning relationship is moving while still being realistic; the murder and its amplification of the town’s post-crash tensions make this debut novel completely gripping.
This is so very good. Told in alternating viewpoints, we see two vividly-realised characters and a love story that is both about connecting emotionally and being attracted to someone physically (really well handled). One of my favourite YA books of the year.
Natasha Farrant – The Things We Did For Love
A teenage love story unfolds against the backdrop of a small village in Nazi-occupied France. The war has not left Luc and Arianne untouched, but their blossoming romance is enchantingly hopeful. World War Two tearjerkers are not uncommon, but the elegance of the writing here and the lack of sentimentality make this a haunting and memorable read.
This is gorgeous. I don’t want to say too much but it is worth reading, and also worth reading without reading anything about what prompted the author to write it. So stylishly written. If you like Eva Ibbotson’s YA/adult novels, or Meg Rosoff’s books, or Adele Geras’s YA novels, this one is likely to appeal.
Aha, yes, it has been a while, hasn’t it? Thoughts on recently-read books, some more detailed than others.
Stephanie Perkins – Anna and the French Kiss
This debut from Stephanie Perkins is adorable, and funny, and sweet, and painful, and deeply deeply romantic. Anna is spending her senior year of high school at an American boarding school in Paris (Paris!) but despite appreciating that it’s, you know, Paris, she’s also nervous about being in a new city alone, without speaking the language, and wishes she’d been given a choice. Very quickly, though, she makes friends, including the delicious Etienne (actually British, despite the French name), who she very quickly falls for. Trouble is, he has a girlfriend. The will-they-won’t-they plot is handled beautifully, woven in throughout Anna’s other friendships and relationships (both in Paris and back home in Atlanta) and her exploration of Paris. I loved that Etienne was a history nerd (not the exact phrasing used in the book, but, oh, gosh, he so is, and it’s delightful), and afraid of heights, and so very much not perfect. Theirs is a very messy but very authentic and sweet story, and one that’s definitely worth reading. (Plus. Boarding school. In Paris. These things make me happy.)
(Also – there is a bonus scene on the author’s website in which Star Trek is discussed. Oh my.)
David Levithan & Rachel Cohn – Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares
Another collaboration between Levithan and Cohn, a he-said she-said romance which travels around New York and mentions The Strand bookstore an awful lot. I loved reading this – it’s full of the usual quirky, insightful teen characters that you’d expect from these two, but it also let me live vicariously through them and do Christmas-in-New-York. Worth reading.
Melissa Hill – Something From Tiffany’s
This was another book with a Christmas-in-New-York part, strangely enough, though it concentrates on the less bookish corners. After an accident, two Tiffany’s boxes get mixed up, and widower Ethan, who’d been planning to propose to his new girlfriend, instead finds a charm bracelet. Meanwhile, restaurant co-owner Rachel can’t stop herself from peeking in her boyfriend Gary’s Christmas shopping – and when she finds a ring she’s absolutely delighted. The mix-up scenario, and the fall-out from it, is made plausible, and there are a few extra twists and turns along the way. Highly enjoyable.
Melvin Burgess – Kill All Enemies
To be honest, every time I’d heard about this book it had been linked with the London riots, so my impression of it before reading was that it was some kind of dystopian nightmare. It isn’t – it’s the story of three teenagers in PRUs (pupil referral units) in England, the acting-out types who all have reasons for it. Much more optimistic than I was expecting, and well worth checking out.
Ella Griffin – Postcards from the Heart
Fun, readable and moving chick-lit from a debut author. Really enjoyed this and looking forward to her next book in 2012.
Orla Tinsley – Salty Baby
I found this fascinating – a life of illness and campaigning but also much more generally about growing up in Ireland and having passions and interests and being stubborn. I know other people have noted this, but it would have been so easy to present a sanitised, polished, glossed-over life here. Instead it’s incredibly honest. Tinsley doesn’t always come across as the nicest, saintliest person, but it makes for a much more interesting read this way.
Cecelia Ahern – The Book of Tomorrow
The first Cecelia Ahern book I’d ever read – particularly drawn to this one as it has a pretty cover and is about a teenager rather than a proper grown-up. Tamara’s father has just died, and she and her mother move to the country to live with her aunt and uncle, near the ruins of a castle. The take on Celtic Tiger Dublin is really well handled – in some ways I’d have loved to see this as a realistic teen novel rather than chick-lit with a magical twist. Tamara finds a book, a diary, that reveals what’s going to happen the next day, but that device is less important than all the secrets lurking beneath the surface of the family and the castle. The ending felt like a little too much, pushing the bounds of plausibility even as far as the story’s world was concerned, but until then it was an interesting read.
Maria Duffy – Any Dream Will Do
Very cool to see Maria Duffy’s first book out so quickly! Jenny Breslin has Twitter friends on their way to stay with her – but she’s never met any of them in real life before and is a little concerned how things might go. Rightly so, as it turns out – they’ve all got secrets of their own, things they haven’t been 100% honest about on the internet. Fun, funny and fast-paced – a great holiday read.
Jennifer Weiner – Then Came You
The story of a surrogate pregnancy as told from the points of view of the rich mother, the egg donor, the surrogate, and the half-sister. There’s a rich backstory for everyone involved and it all comes together beautifully in the end. I’ve heard so many great things about Jennifer Weiner’s books – will definitely be reading more of them after this one.
Leigh Fallon – Carrier of the Mark
Paranormal romance centred about an American girl who comes to live in Ireland. Picked up mostly for the setting – there are a couple of nifty scenes in Trinity, especially.
Jeff Kinney – Diary of a Wimpy Kid #6: Cabin Fever
Funny as ever. It’s holiday season, and Greg’s looking for a way to make money. Disaster inevitably ensues.