Recently, there has been much discussion of mental illness in teens. Being a kid is hard enough in this world. Add to that the pain and confusion that comes with having a mental illness, and the tough teenage years become almost unbearable. There are some really good novels for young adults that deal with these issues. One that I read recently takes a wonderfully creative and thought-provoking look at what schizophrenia can do to its sufferers. It is called Challenger Deep.
The story is written by one of my favorite young adult fiction authors, Neal Shusterman, who is best known for his science fiction fare. Yet he tackles the subject of schizophrenia with a great deal of personal knowledge. That is because his own son, Brendan, lives with the disorder. This has allowed Shusterman to construct a story that is both personal and heartfelt while retaining his signature style of the fantastic. Brendan both helped with the book and provided all of its illustrations.
Challenger Deep follows the journey of Caden Bosch. At first, Caden seems to be your typical teenager. Then, friends and family start to notice some odd and disturbing behavior. On occasion, Caden believes that he is on a ship called Challenger Deep, which is on a mission to explore the Marianas Trench. As it becomes more apparent to those around him that he needs help, Caden is hospitalized. Once Caden is confined, Shusterman excellently conveys the frustrations of a young man trapped in a hospital and trying to deal with a disorder that can make it almost impossible to tell what is real and what is not.
Challenger Deep is a great exploration of one particular type of mental illness. However, there are some other very good young adult books that deal with other mental health issues that are worth checking out. Here are a few:
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness: So what does a novel telling a story about ordinary people living in a world of “chosen ones” have to do with mental illness? Well, when the protagonist is dealing with serious anxiety and trying to stay alive at the same time, a lot. It is interesting to see someone handling this issue in the fantastic setting of this amazing book.
- The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten: One of the most misunderstood, and sometimes mocked, mental health issues is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Toten’s novel tackles the issue with great sensitivity and understanding as it explores protagonist Adam’s struggle with the disorder.
- Paperweight by Meg Haston: Another mental illness that can be hard to understand from the outside is anorexia. Haston tries to remedy this with a novel that tells the story of Stevie, a young woman who feels that her life is spinning out of control. So she tries control the one thing she can—her weight. As she spirals into the abyss of an eating disorder, the effects on both herself and the people around her are explored in an insightful and compassionate way.
- Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes: Not often discussed in teen fiction, this book tackles the subject of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with the story of Maguire, the sole survivor of the crash that killed several members of her family. When several other tragedies just happen to take place around her, she becomes paralyzed by her own survivor’s guilt. Therapy might be the only way to allow her to finally overcome her fears.
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: Another novel dealing with anxiety and OCD but with a much darker tone. A young woman named Aza struggles more with the repetitive thoughts in her head than with the repetitive actions she feels compelled to make (although those cause her harm as well). The story deals with both a mystery and Aza’s attempts to try to form some sort of relationship with Davis, a boy she can’t even bear the thought of kissing.
Hopefully, teens who are dealing with mental health issues may be able to find something to relate to in the above novels. And, the more stories that explore these subjects, the more understanding may finally be given to those who suffer from them.