Friday, April 22, 2011

Books that deal with mental illness

Reading books about people and characters that have suffered from some sort of mental illness or have been affected by mental health issues is always really fascinating for me to read. I'm always on the lookout for books that handle this topic sensitively and with understanding. Aside from the books I've already reviewed this week, here are some of the books that I've read recently that I've enjoyed.

This list is hardly comprehensive and I would love to hear any suggestions that you might have in the comments!

Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones - I really adore Sonya Sones and her lovely, emotional verse novels. This was the first book of hers that I'd come across, told in beautiful and honest poetry how the main character and her family deal with declining mental health of her older sister. I believe this is based on the author's own experience with a sibling's mental illness.

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta - I adore Melina Marchetta something fierce. And part of the adoration stems from the really honest and believable way in which the heavy depression of a family member is portrayed. There's such strong feelings of guilt and blame by Francesca over her mother's depression that it really hurt my heart reading this book.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen - I admit that I read this book after watching the movie and long before I started blogging so I'm a little hazy on the details. I do remember enjoying the detailed descriptions of Susanna's experiences within a mental hospital and the complex cast of people she meets there.

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb - I remember this book being slightly angsty and at times a little bleak, but when I read this book as a teenager I really felt connected to the main character's story and her heavy thoughts of depression and her battles with food.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar was such an important book for me as a teenager at the height of the worst of my depression. I loved feeling less alone whilst reading this book and it just filled a hole that I hadn't realised existed.

Zelah Green by Vanessa Curtis -I've not come across any other books about OCD other than this one. I'm aware that there is a sequel but I've not come across it as yet! This one tells the story of teenage Zelah Green as she spends some time in a youth house that specialises in helping youngsters with psychiatric issues. Other patients have issues including self-harm and

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - I admit to never having seen the film adaptation of this film! I mostly picked up this book because I felt homesick and knew the author is an Oregonian. But as I began reading, I was fascinated by the descriptions of the treatment within this mental hospital in the 70s. Shocking and unbelievably sad but told in a wonderful, engaging voice.

Another book I was hoping to read for this event, but wasn't able to find the time: Wild Roses by Deb Caletti, which I believe is a YA novel that deals with a depressive father.

Please, please do share your own recommendations with us all in the comments! I know how very limited this list is.


  1. Great list. Young Minds do a book award every year that awards books that deal with all sorts of Mental Health issues.

  2. Great list. I don't have any to add, but I will certainly be adding some of these to my reading list.

  3. awesome list. I haven't got many to add other than perhaps Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson?
    I have read girl, interrupted but none of the others. I keep meaning to read one flew over the cuckoos nest and the Bell jar but haven't got round to it yet.

  4. Great list. I just ordered Zelah Green and the sequel from last week. They haven't arrived yet but I'm looking forward to reading them.

    The Bell Jar is one I've had on my wishlist forever. One of these days I'll pick myself up a copy.

  5. I just read The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta and it handles depression and it's effects even better than Saving Francesca (it actually follows the same group of characters) - I found a lot that I related to in its pages. Also, I think The Places You'll Go is a bit of a winner when preparing kids for how life is and its always picked me up as well. I've suffered from depression sporadically since my early teens and have often found much solace in books that deal with it realistically.

  6. I also thought The Bell Jar was wonderful. I felt a greater sense of understanding and compassion for those who suffer from mental illness after reading it.

  7. I loved Saving Francesca! I can't remember it very well as I was reading a lot of YA at the time for my MA and wasn't writing reviews yet but I own a copy so am planning to re-read it. The book Girl, Interrupted is much shorter than I expected it to be after watching the film, but I thought that you got more background information in the book, which was interesting. I'm not sure how I feel about The Bell Jar, I read it last September and still haven't decided whether it was more than just an okay read.

    Simmone Howell asked for similar recommendations on her blog the other week, you might like to check out the comments here:

  8. A couple of other books are Patrick Gayle's Notes From an Exhibition and Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves. I found The Bell Jar difficult but enjoyed the film with Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig about Plath.

  9. Ahh. I really wanted to add photos to this post but I didn't have the time :(

    Emma - thanks for pointing me in the direction of Young Minds, it looks like a wonderful and useful website!

    Jenni - Thank you :)

    Raimy - Ultraviolet, I've heard OF it, but don't really know anything about it. But thanks, I'll look it up!

    TSB - I really enjoyed Zelah Green and I'm quite eagerly looking forward to reading the sequel, but have heard mixed things about it. I've not come across very many YA books that deal with OCD though, so I was always quite intrigued by it.

    Sya - You've mentioned on twitter (or was it a comment?) that The Piper's Son was quite a good book that dealt with depression, I shall be reading it soon. I'm glad to hear that books have helped you so much over the years :)

    Charley - I think it's probably time for me to re-read it!

    Julianne - I really do love Saving Francesca, and just Melina Marchetta in general. Thanks for pointing me in the direction of Simmone's post, there are some very helpful recommendations there!

    booketta - Ah, I'm sure there a load of excellent books that deal with depression etc amongst adult fiction. I don't read very much of it these days however! Also, now that you've mentioned it, I think I saw that film and really enjoyed it as well...

  10. Oh, just seeing The Bell Jar on your list reminds me that I need to read that book again. I must confess that I don't have a lot of experience with books that deal with mental illness, but am defintely going to go out and get some of these books. I'm especially dying to read Saving Franscesca and Tabitha Suzuma's A note of Madness. Great post Michelle.

  11. Tammy - Both excellent books! I really Melina Marchetta, and I have such respect for Tabitha Suzuma. I hope you enjoy both. I was thinking the other day that I'd like to re-read The Bell Jar as well, it's been such a long time.


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