Why I’m here.

I remember vividly days when my middle school teachers would escort my class to the computer lab full of already obsolete desktops to research careers. On one particular assignment, we were tasked with using proper research techniques and appropriate documentation to find three possible careers we might one day pursue. One career was always on my list, but as serendipity would have it, the profession I actually chose to dedicate my life to never appeared among my choices. The job that did frequent these assignment was therapist, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Though the exact title often varied, I thought from fairly early on that I wanted to work in the mental health field. Instead, I chose to enter the field of education and become an English teacher. While I have loved every minute of my time in the classroom, I’m still drawn to issues related to mental illness and wellness.

As part of my current research focus for the Doctor of Arts in English Pedagogy program at Murray State University, I am combining my love of literature, specifically young-adult literature (YAL), with mental health. YAL allows me to remember my childhood nostalgically, while also being reminded of modern beliefs and values, pushing me to see the merits of these kinds of works in the education setting. Putting YAL in teens’ hands has revived a love of reading for a number of young people. On this blog, I will look at a number of examples of YA novels and discuss how they can serve as a catalyst to talk about issues related to mental health. Students should have access to young-adult literature that is treated with similar reverence as the classics are often given. YA works can sometimes serve students better, in fact, on issues of mental illness and mental wellness. It can be groundbreaking for a student to see themselves in characters dealing with similar issues they live with daily. Teenagers are certainly no strangers to issues surrounding mental health, but discussing these sorts of problems are often problematic at best. Whether it’s screamed at them somewhere along the 24-hour news cycle or deliberately calculated through algorithms on their smartphones, real and far-reaching stories dealing with mental health barrage teenagers on a daily basis. Certainly, access to young-adult literature and a good teacher can serve teenagers better than sorting through similar experiences on their own.

For the purposes of my work, I am adopting certain definitions and classifications as communicated in Kia Jane Richmond’s book Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles Through Fictional Characters. In her work, she credits Michael Cart, writing on behalf of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), with articulating a definition of YAL. As such, young-adult literature is “inherently amorphous, for its constituent terms ‘young adult’ and ‘literature’ are dynamic, changing as culture and society—which provide their context—change” (qtd. in Richmond 1). Further, Richmond combines another definition with Cart’s to create a fuller categorization of the grouping. Crediting Chris Crowe’s work in the field, Richmond notes that YAL encompasses all genres of literature published in 1967 onward that are specifically written for and marketed to youth. Experts rely on the year 1967 since it’s the year S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, a work specifically marketed toward adolescents, was published. 

Recalling Cart again, Richmond reminisces the benefits of YAL as including works that can foster “understanding, empathy, and compassion by offering vividly realized portraits of the lives—exterior and interior—of individuals who are unlike the reader” (qtd. in Richmond 1-2). Richmond continues by noting Cart’s argument that YAL can afford young adults the abilities of “finding role models, making sense of their world, developing personal philosophies of being, and determining right and wrong” (2).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, out of US children ages 2-17, approximately 6.1 million (9.4%) have a diagnosis of ADHD; about 4.5 million (7.4%) are diagnosed with a behavior problem; roughly 4.4 million (7.1%) carry an anxiety diagnosis; and around 1.9 million (3.2%) are diagnosed with depression. Those numbers are staggering. Now, imagine even one-fourth of those with a disorder never receiving any kind of intervention or support. This also negates the number of teens who experience issues of mental wellness that have not grown into a diagnosable mental health disorder, allowing supports like those found in young-adult literature to truly make a difference.

In “It Is All in Your Head: Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature,” Anastasia Wickham notes, “The recent treatment of mentally ill characters in popular YA novels confronts the stigma of mental illness and illustrates a road to interdependence, inclusion, agency, and empowerment that is often obscured.” Students need to see accurate representations of mental illness, examples they can not only identify with but ones that offer hope, solace, and understanding to their condition.

Young-adult literature doesn’t only make up a teacher’s toolbox, however. YAL has also been identified as a set of useful tools for mental health professionals. Richmond mentions the concept of bibliotherapy, which is when mental health professionals use literature as a way to help patients cope with issues surrounding their mental wellness. It’s easy to understand why education is often seen as a village effort, requiring effort from educators, parents, business leaders, community members, and the students themselves. Helping students navigate the turbulent waters of adolescence is in the best interests of all those who strive for a brighter future, as the students of today will be the leaders of tomorrow.


“Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 June 2020, http://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html.

Richmond, Kia Jane. Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles Through Fictional Characters, ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/murraystate/detail.action?docID=5597794.

Wickham, Anastasia. “It Is All in Your Head: Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature.” Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 51, no. 1, Feb. 2018, pp. 10–25. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/jpcu.12641.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Some of the works contained on this blog could be considered too graphic or extreme for some readers. Caution is advised.

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

“We’re just floating in space trying to figure out what it means to be human.”

-John Corey Whaley, Highly Illogical Behavior

Highly Illogical Behavior, written by John Corey Whaley, takes on the issues of debilitating agoraphobia and anxiety in teens. The novel follows Solomon, a 16-year-old who hasn’t left his house in three years. He sees no problem in this. Solomon is perfectly content staying at home watching television and surfing the Internet, but others in his life are aware of his unnatural way of life and worry what kind of life may be in store for him in the years to come. Staying at home has been the saving grace Solomon has sought. Solomon was driven to his three-year-long reclusive life by an episode in middle school when he had an agoraphobic attack, stripped down to his boxers, and was found in the middle of his school’s water fountain.

Enter Lisa, an ambitious teen who aspires to earn her way into a high-ranking psychology program in college. After Lisa learns of Solomon’s disorder, she decides to use his story—and the hope she can cure him of his predicament—for her college essay. In order to gain Solomon’s trust, Lisa brings her boyfriend, Clark, on board, which eventually adds an element of unrequited homosexual love between the gay Solomon and the heterosexual Clark. Lisa is later surprised when her manipulation turns into a genuine friendship between the three.

Eventually, Solomon learns the real reason Lisa wanted to befriend him, and conflict ensues, despite the improvements Solomon has made with his disorders as a result of his friendship with Lisa and Clark.

The two mend their differences, showing readers that human relationships are sometimes messy and require accepting other people’s shortcomings and downfalls.

Whaley portrays Solomon’s anxiety and agoraphobia in a thoughtful, non-threatening way, showing readers that teens aren’t defined by their current mental state. The author further chooses a writing style full of humor and sarcasm–sometimes described as a teen’s native tongue–where the topics discussed appear more open and accessible. When students are able to see themselves in the literature they read, it can have profound effects.

While Solomon’s illness isn’t cured by the end of the book, Whaley is able to communicate a mythos that small steps still point toward progress, and that’s enough in the wake of mental wellness.

Highly Illogical Behavior is different from many of its contemporaries in one district and important way. While in many YA novels, the parents are flat, static characters who set the sidelines, that is not quite the case in this work. Solomon’s parents’ steadfast involvement and active concern show that through a support system, teens experiencing mental strife can still make progress toward a healthy life, even if the steps are small ones. Beyond anything, Whaley’s work humanizes mental illness.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/Highly-Illogical-Behavior-Corey-Whaley/dp/0147515203

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

“I remember the stars that night. They were like salt against the sky, like someone spilled the shaker against very dark cloth. That mattered to me, their accidental beauty.”

-Kathleen Glasgow, Girl in Pieces

Girl in Pieces, the appropriately named young-adult work by Kathleen Glasgow, takes readers on a journey to better understand suicidal tendencies and self-harming. The novel follows a girl, Charlie Davis, who has suffered much in her short 17 years of life.

In her brief life, Charlie has suffered many losses in a time in her life when teens simply aren’t fully equipped to deal with such things: By 17, she has suffered the loss of her father by his own hand. She has endured physical abuse by her mother. She has seen her best friend suffer brain damage as a result of a failed suicide attempt. She has gone homeless. And she has been threatened with rape on more than one occasion.

Readers first meet Charlie as she recovers in a facility specializing in self-harm prevention. While at the facility, she is diagnosed with a non-suicidal self-injury, impulse-control disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as selective mutism. Unfortunately, she is prematurely released after making some progress because of issues with her medical insurance covering the cost of her treatment. Without the aid of mental health professionals, Charlie must learn to cope with her psychic pain in the only way she knows how: by self-harming and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. While these two coping mechanisms are certainly on the unhealthy end of the spectrum, she does enjoy art and finds solace in music, and her mental health marginally improves as a result of these activities.

Upon her release from the facility to the custody of her abusive mother (she’s still a minor), Charlie reaches out to her friend Mikey. Mikey sends Charlie’s mother a bus ticket so Charlie can move to Tucson with him as he attends college. Mikey is out of town with his band when Charlie arrives, but the teen is able to employ the healthy coping skills she gained at the facility in her first days in a new city. She does so well, in fact, that she obtains a job at a coffeehouse and finds her own apartment. The emotional maturity and social control Charlie shows in this example of growth is indicative of the growth she demonstrates as the novel continues, despite the various vices that exist within her life.

While she is living on her own for the first time in Tucson, Charlie knows that she has to be “careful” because “being overwhelmed, feeling powerless, getting caught up in the tornado of shame and emptiness is a trigger.” At times, she is able to remember this point and employs some therapeutic techniques she learned while at Creeley.

Old patterns prove difficult to kick for Charlie, however, as she continues to cut herself with broken glass when she needs a release that she can’t find using healthy coping skills. While in Tucson, she begins a relationship with cook and failed musician Riley West; though, Riley suffers through drug and alcohol abuse himself.

Charlie’s new life in Tucson is not much easier than her old one with an abusive mother. A girl Charlie meets at the facility, Blue, travels to Tucson to stay with her, but, like Charlie, Blue suffers from her own troubles. Blue later learns a girl who the two met at the facility has committed suicide. To deal with her grief, Blue falls prey to a drug bender with Riley, but Riley’s supplier beats up Blue and ultimately destroys Charlie’s apartment. Charlie’s response is to cut herself, but she is soon saved by two of her coffeehouse coworkers. Girl in Pieces shows readers that with a support system, and a little nudge in the right direction, life with mental illness is not a death sentence.

Though the middle of the novel appears hopelessly bleak, Charlie’s friends take her to New Mexico where she visits with Felix, an artist. Felix is supportive of Charlie and tries to teach her to use art as a way to express her story and journey toward healing. At the end of the novel, Charlie is enjoying life as Felix’s assistant in his art studio, coping with her tramas through only healthy ways.

Amazon.com link: https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Pieces-Kathleen-Glasgow/dp/1101934719

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

“There’s nothing wrong with someone saving my life, I’ve realized, especially when I can’t trust myself to get the job done right. People need people. That’s that.”

-Adam Silvera, History Is All You Left Me

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera centers around the protagonist, Griffin, as he navigates the waters of grief when his ex-boyfriend, Theo, drowns in an accident. Throughout the novel, Griffin must revisit his past with Theo to survive the grief from his loss but is confronted with obsessive compulsions and destructive behaviors.

Silvera’s writing style adds to the novel’s depth, as the work employs an alternative-chapter approach where one chapter is written in the present and the other in the past. In the present chapters, Griffin’s voice is one marked by sorrow, loss, and grief as he learns to live in a world without the boy he still loves. The past chapters are inversely happy as Griffin remembers a history where he and Theo enjoy their relationship together.

In the past chapters, readers learn that Griffin ultimately loses Theo even before his drowning. Theo graduated early from the high school the two attended together and went to college out of state. The pain from the breakup was only amplified when Theo started dating a California boy who shared stark similarities with Griffin.

In the present chapters, we see Griffin conversate at Theo’s funeral with the deceased’s boyfriend, Jackson. Afterall, Jackson wants to meet and grieve with the only other boy Theo ever loved–Griffin. What complicates things for Griffin, however, is his confusion of how to grieve Theo when Jackson is in the picture. Regardless, the two boys share their pain and stories of Theo as they help each other heal from their loss.

Griffin’s OCD and grief drive him dangerously close to mental illness, but through his evolving friendship with Jackson, readers are reminded there is always hope.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/History-All-You-Left-Me/dp/1616956925

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

“Everyone wants you here. We have a saying in Farsi. It translates ‘your place was empty.’ We say it when we miss somebody.”

I sniffed.

“Your place was empty before. But this is your family. You belong here.”

-Adib Khorram, Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram takes on depression. The title follows high school sophomore Darius who describes himself as a “Fractional Persian,” half on his mother’s side. As Darius lives in Portland, he suffers immense feelings of not belonging. His one friend at his school, he fears, is someone his father doesn’t approve of. Making matters worse, Darius also battles clinical depression, for which he is prescribed medication with weight gain as a side effect.

While this novel deals a lot with identity issues during adolescents, Darius’s world is further complicated when his Iran-living grandfather is found to have a brain tumor that is growing. The family vows to travel to Iran to tell the man goodbye during a three-week trip abroad. Though, this will be the first time Darius has met his grandparents in person and will be his initial visit to Iran.

Darius’s fears of not fitting in are amplified in what is for him a foreign country. He doesn’t speak the language like his mother and young sister do, and having to explain his need to take antidepressants only complicate things even further when others don’t understand mental illness.

While in Iran, Darius meets a boy his age, Sohrab, who is helping Darius’s grandfather. The friendship the two cultivate gives Darius the sense of belonging he has yearned for.

Darius the Great is Not Okay is an excellent representation of a character with mental illness who takes medication for it but whose illness isn’t completely eliminated by it. Oftentimes, there’s no magic cure for mental illness, but Khorram’s novel demonstrates that that’s okay, too.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/Darius-Great-Okay-Adib-Khorram/dp/0525552960

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

“It isn’t the happy ending Ingrid and I had dreamed up, but it’s all a part of what I’m working through. The way life changes. The way people and things disappear. Then appear, unexpectedly, and hold you close.”

-Nina LaCour, Hold Still

Hold Still by Nina LaCour shows readers a life grieving the suicide of a friend. Protagonist Caitlin is left alone by her best friend Ingrid’s suicide, struggling to navigate the waters of adolescents and grief. LaCour’s novel provides teen readers with a prime example of how life must go on despite tragedy, but stopping and remembering the happy times before the tragedy are okay, too.

Sometime after Ingrid’s suicide, Caitlin finds her best friend’s journal hidden beneath her bed. Reading Ingrid’s private thoughts sends Caitlin on a journey to understand her best friend in a new way, a way she was unable to during Ingrid’s life.

As Caitlin begins life with a new normal, without Ingrid, she befriends a popular boy at her school, Taylor, and a new student, Dylan. The guilt that Caitlin feels, however, in cultivating new relationships provides a very realistic depiction of the healing process after a tragic event.

Navigating new relationships in the wake of Ingrid’s death are only compounded by what Caitlin learns from reading Ingrid’s journal. Facing the guilt that she could have done something to prevent Ingrid’s suicide, Caitlin learns that Ingrid suffered from manic depression, suicidal tendencies, sexual deviance, self-mutilation, among other issues.

As she learns this new, once-hidden side of her best friend, Caitlin, with the help of a support system, begins to heal and learn to live life after suffering a great tragedy. Caitlin’s healing toward the end of the work shows the reader that a person’s circumstances today do not have to be a person’s circumstances everyday.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/Hold-Still-Nina-LaCour/dp/0142416940

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

“It’s an act of bravery to feel your feelings.”

-Gayle Forman, I Was Here

I Was Here, by Gayle Forman, offers a conversation on undiscovered depression and a resulting suicide. Forman’s novel follows Cody after her best friend, Meg, drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a hotel room and dies. Cody, Meg’s parents, and the police receive time-delayed emails from Meg that attempt to explain her decision to end her life. Cody suffers immense guilt because she missed the signs of Meg’s depression and the resulting suicide, despite the two once sharing everything with one another.

Despite planning to attend college together, competing scholarships to different institutions separate the two best friends across states lines–Meg attending a small private school in Tacoma, and Cody attending a local community college in their hometown. Cody takes on the responsibility of going to pack up Meg’s belonging at college, but the Meg she discovers is not the same person she thought she knew. Cody learns about Meg’s roommates, a boy named Ben McAllister, and about an encrypted computer file. The secrets Meg kept from her best friend throw Cody’s understanding of Meg into question.

As Cody searches for an answer to the mystery of why a seemingly happy person would kill herself, she is unfortunately faced with few definite answers. Cody attempts to gain some understanding of this tragedy, but her search recalls some deep-seeded familial issues she herself had tried to keep hidden from conscious thought.

Searching for answers, Cody delves deep into Meg’s laptop and finds she accessed pro-suicide support groups and spoke with someone hiding behind the alias All_BS who encourages people to commit suicide as a way to escape the pain of life. Cody learns Meg was a member of this group calling themselves “The Final Solution,” where members describe ways to commit suicide and then encourage others to follow through in the act. Communication between Meg and the user All_BS particularly struck Cody since this seemingly older user took great pains to offer advice to younger users making suicide seem like a viable option.

Meg’s roommates help Cody identify the face behind All_BS as a man named Bradford Smith who lives in Nevada. Cody asks Ben, who she gets to know as the novel progresses and eventually develops feelings for, to accompany her on a roadtrip to confront Smith. When Cody faces Smith, she learns that Meg had long ago decided to commit suicide. After delivering Meg’s belongings to her parents, Cody learns from Meg’s parents that she likely committed suicide for more than one reason. They explain that Meg had suffered from decision for many years, and that mental illness runs in Meg’s family.

Forman’s novel offers a strong example of what suicide can do to a person’s loved ones as they grappled with the fallout.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/I-Was-Here-Gayle-Forman/dp/0451471474

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

“There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.”

-Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls

Wintergirls is a novel by well-established young-adult author Laurie Halse Anderson that focuses on Lia Overbrook, who suffers from anorexia and self-mutilation.

The novel opens when protagonist Lia learns of her best friend Cassie’s death. Cassie suffers from bulimia and dies after a particularly stressful night of binging and purging. Complicating Lia’s grief is the fact that Cassie tried to call her friend over 30 times seeking help. Lia did not answer.

Lia eventually gets around to checking her phone and listens to the voicemails from Cassie begging her to answer the phone. Worried that she’ll be partially blamed for Cassie’s death, Lia keeps the voicemails to herself. Lia finds control in her anorexia and self-harming.

Despite a history of mental illness and familial problems, Lia is close to her younger sister, Emma, which offers her some relief from the storm inside her mind. Despite Emma’s importance in Lia’s life, her eating disorder rages out of control. Making matters worse, Lia begins seeing Cassie’s ghost, who informs Lia she has unfinished business with her. Lia fears the unfinished business is tied to her not answering the phone the night Cassie died.

Later in the novel, Lia learns that Cassie’s ghost is not haunting her for missing the phone calls; rather, Cassie is waiting for Lia’s spirit to cross over with her. Lia self harms with increased frequency now, and is even edged on by Cassie’s ghost into going too far and ending her life. At one point in the novel, Lia visits the motel where Cassie died and takes sleeping pills to try to escape her own thoughts. Since Lia weighs so little, she nearly dies because of the pills.

After nearly dying, Lia decides to seek treatment and re-enters a treatment facility on her own accord, showing readers the strength it takes to seek help.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/Wintergirls-Laurie-Halse-Anderson/dp/014241557X

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

“Things to do today:

1) Breathe in.

2) Breathe out.”

Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini is a novel that paved the way for many of its more contemporary siblings in the group. But what most sets this novel apart from others is not the novel itself but the author. The prolific writer Ned Vizzini wrote from a place of experience. It’s Kind of a Funny Story follows a teen who spends time in a psychiatric ward, which Vizzini also did in his early adulthood.

Vizzini’s novel follows New York teen Craig who attends a prestigious prep school in the city. Craig’s mental unwellness begins to fester due to his debilitating perfectionism. Craig worries about doing well in school so he can get into a good college so he can get a good career so that he can lead a happy life. The looping of thoughts for Craig is crippling.

The pressure is on when Craig gets admitted to the NYC prep school. At his old school, he was a big fish in a little pond; here, however, he is seen as merely average compared to his more intellectual classmates. Pressure mounts as Craig’s struggle manifests as an eating disorder and sleeping problems. Craig nearly succumbs to the stress of being perfect when one day he considers killing himself.

Craig is checked into a mental hospital–the adult wing because the youth wing is under renovations–after his suicide attempt, and the catalog of characters who are his neighbors there include a sex addict, a girl who carves up her own face with scissors, and a man who has delusions that he is president.

Craig finds solace and healing by helping his fellow patients deal with their illnesses.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/Its-Kind-Funny-Story-Vizzini/dp/078685197X

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

-Stephen Chbosky, Perks of Being a Wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel written by Stephen Chbosky. Perks follows the life of Charlie, a teen on the verge of entering high school. Desperate for someone to talk to, Charlie writes the entire book as a series of letters addressed to someone he only calls “Friend.”

Charlie grapples with two major traumatic events in his life: The most recent being the suicide of his only friend from middle school, and the latter being the death of his beloved aunt by car crash on Christmas Eve.

High school is different for Charlie, though, as he develops a bond with his English teacher, Bill, and two high school students, Patrick and his step-sister Sam. Charlie eventually develops a crush on Sam, which he tells her about. As a result, Sam treats him affectionately and even kisses him so Charlie’s first kiss can be with someone he loves.

Charlie grows and matures as the year progresses; so, too, do his relationships deepen. He gets closer to Patrick and Sam, and even deepens his bond with his sister. Charlie’s sister is in an abusive relationship, but Charlie as the younger brother serves as a support to her.

Playing the character of Rocky in a rendition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Charlie gets a girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth. Their relationship isn’t healthy from the very beginning, however, because Mary Elizabeth is more interested in herself than in being in a relationship with Charlie. The two break up when, during a game of Truth or Dare, Charlie is dared to kiss the prettiest girl in the room. He kisses Sam and noticeably not Mary Elizabeth. His friend group sides with Mary Elizabeth, and Charlie is shunned for a time.

With most of his friend group, notably Sam and Patrick, being seniors, Charlie’s thoughts are eventually consumed by their moving away at the end of the year. Charlie and Sam eventually make out and begin more sexual activities, but Charlie stops because he is further consumed by something he had repressed. He was molested by his aunt who died in a car crash.

The novel ends in a letter where Charlie informs his “friend” that his parents found him in a catatonic state and sent him to a treatment facility. While there, he was able to recall memories he had previously repressed. In his final letter, Charlie tells his “friend” he plans to stop writing letter and will participate fully in life. While Charlie isn’t healed or cured by the end of the novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower offers a version of mental illness that is real and flawed but still hopeful.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/Perks-Being-Wallflower-Stephen-Chbosky/dp/0671027344

Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

“I get it now. It’s hard to let someone find you in all the dark and twisty places inside, but eventually, you have to hope that they do, because that’s the beginning of everything.”

-Julia Walton, Words on Bathroom Walls

Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton offers an example of a teen, Adam, suffering from schizophrenia. In a similar format to Perks of Being a Wallflower, Words on Bathroom Walls is told as a series of transcripts of Adam talking to his therapist.

Readers learn that after an episode at his old school, Adam enrolls at a private Catholic school, Saint Agatha’s, where no one knows about his illness. While beginning at his new school, Adam also enrolls in an experimental new drug meant to control his condition. At Saint Agatha’s, Adam is befriended by fellow classmate, Maya, who he later saves from drowning in the school pool, further bringing the two together.

Adam also finds friendship in fellow student Dwight. As the novel progresses, Adam is enjoying life at Saint Agatha’s with best-friend Dwight and now-girlfriend Maya. But Adam’s stability begins to falter when he notices some physical side effects of the experimental drug meant to keep his illness under control. Similarly, Adam begins to notice the drug’s efficacy wanning. Taking a firm root in his life, Adam’s paranoid schizophrenia leads him to believe his life is over, and his friends will no longer care for him.

The novel ends with Adam realizing that his friends choose to stand with him, despite his illness, as one of the novel’s main themes revolves around a person with mental illness is not the illness itself.

Amazon.com book listing: https://www.amazon.com/Words-Bathroom-Walls-Julia-Walton/dp/0399550887

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