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6 Great YA and Middle Grade Lit Book Picks Addressing Mental Health and Bullying

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Image of a pen on a book beside leaves with text 6 Great YA and Middle Grade Book Picks Addressing Mental Health and Bullying

by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)

In this month's book club pick, Adib Khorram's Darius the Great Is Not Okay ( |, Khorram discusses living with depression as a teenager in a meaningful and focused way. I wanted to share some other amazing young adult lit books (as well a middle grade lit pick) that address mental health and bullying (another important topic in Darius the Great) in a significant way.

John Green's Turtles All the Way Down ( | - We are all huge fans of John Green (don't miss our latest episode where Jen talks about his book coming out in May!), and Turtles All the Way Down is my favorite of his books so far. Through Aza's character, Green brilliantly explores the way that anxiety can cause spiraling thoughts with no end in sight. I loved everything about this one, but what has stayed with me is the way that through a laser-like focus on Aza's thoughts throughout the novel, Green portrays managing mental health and illustrates the fact that living with something like anxiety is an ongoing journey with highs and lows, not a temporary problem that can simply be solved.

A. S. King's Everybody Sees the Ants ( | - Jen and I talked about this one in the episode; King does a great job in this powerful book of taking on bullying and showing how complicated and challenging it can be to handle in a meaningful way. I also love the dream landscapes in this novel and the unexpected relationship that develops between Lucky and his deceased grandfather. This is a lovely story that covers so many issues in a nuanced way.

Nina LaCour's Hold Still ( | - In this powerful YA lit novel, Caitlin finds herself alone with Ingrid's journal after her best friend's suicide. Though Caitlin does not believe at first that she can find a way forward, she ultimately finds healing through Ingrid's journal. This is a book that explores depression and its effects but also shows the pathway toward hope through community after the profound loss of a friend to suicide. (I've heard that We Are Okay is phenomenal as well; that one is on my TBR!)

Mark Oshiro's Anger Is a Gift ( | - In this one, Oshiro shows through Moss how it feels to live with panic attacks. After a traumatic experience, Moss has had to learn to manage panic attacks, but when security measures at his high school continue to spiral farther and farther out of control, jeopardizing the well being of the students, Moss finds himself needing to take a stand and to embrace activism as a way to bring about change.

Emily X. R. Pan's The Astonishing Color of After ( | - This is one of my favorite books. When I first started it, I thought I might have a hard time getting through it, and there are parts that are very painful, but I absolutely loved the way that Pan showed Leigh's grief and her depression after her mother's suicide. Her journey to Taiwan and her desire to connect with her mother's estranged family is lovely and hopeful.

Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me ( | - We all love this middle-grade book on the pod. This one covers so many important social issues, and bullying is one of many things that the unlikely friend group takes on as they get to know each other better. Through their determination to take care of each other, they find a way to take a stand against the bullying. We did this one for a buddy read, and we've talked about it in other episodes as well, including in Great Books for the Classroom by Black Authors, episode 130. This is a must-read for adults and kids alike.

As a bonus recommendation, I wanted to share Allie Brosh's comic essay collection, Hyperbole and a Half (, which has two brilliant sections addressing her own experiences living with depression. She is a brilliant writer and artist, and I can't wait to read her new collection that came out in fall of 2020, Solutions and Other Problems (

(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)

Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.

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