We humans are a diverse lot. And there are a lot of strange little things that plague us. And yet, a lot of these things almost never show up in books. And I wonder why that is?
Because often, part of the reason why you like a character so much is because you identify with that character. And yes, maybe you identify with their family life or their childhood or their way of thinking or even their way of living, but what if you could identify with other things?
Depression has recently starting appearing a lot in YA, with books like All the Bright Places, My Heart and Other Black Holes, Falling Into Place, and The Program. And there are books that have characters with depression, even if the books aren’t about depression themselves, books like Paper Towns (Margo), The Blood of Olympus (Nice and probably Rayna), Vampire Academy (Lissa), and even Harry Potter (Sirius). And that is great, it’s great that teenagers with depression can identify with these characters, and know that they’re not alone in feeling this way. But what about other mental illnesses that are as often represented? What about other disorders or illness or just little things that often make daily life kind of a struggle?
Here is a list of some of those things, which I hope, I really really hope, we see more of in YA.
Anxiety is one of the most common (if not the most common) mental illnesses out there, especially among teenagers. And yet, it often gets shunted aside in YA to focus on depression. And don’t get me wrong, depression is horrible, but anxiety is, too. And it tends to be misrepresented when it does pop up.
Books about/dealing with anxiety:
HEADACHES & MIGRAINES
I deal with both of these on a pretty common basis; it runs in the family. It’s a range, too, from ‘this headache is kind of annoying me” to “oh my gosh I’m going to throw up from pain and if I see even a sliver of light it sends bolts of agony straight into my eyes”. I even have to take blood tests every couple of years to make sure that my liver and kidneys are still functioning correctly from all the medication I took and still often take.
And these are pretty common things. And yet I’ve only ever seen it twice in YA fiction. Why is that?
Books that deal with headaches/migraines:
Insomnia is also an extremely common thing, and yet also very rare to see in YA novels, despite the fact it often comes along hand-in-hand with both depression and anxiety. And it is often misrepresented, too, because I know several people who thought they had insomnia just because they liked to stay up late at night. It’s something that needs to be talked about more.
Books about/that deal with Insomnia:
From what I’ve heard about it, OCD is a brutal mental illness to have, and yet people always seem to get it wrong. It’s one of the most joked about mental illnesses as well, and it’s not uncommon to hear someone jokingly say “I have OCD!” while they put their pencils in a straight line on their desk.
Books that are about/deal with OCD
Before anyone gets mad, I know that bisexuality isn’t a problem. However, is is horribly underrepresented in YA novels. The number of novels with LGBT+ characters is growing, and yet it is a struggle to find a book with a bisexual character, let alone one that actually says their bisexual (TV has an equally bad problem with this, if not worse.)
Books with bisexual characters:
I only recently learned that a friend of mine was struggling from an eating disorder, and told hardly anyone. This was so heartbreaking to me; not because I wasn’t told (I completely understand that), but that she even went through it in the first place. Teenagers, and girls especially, are pressured to fit into this neat little box, and sometimes the way they try to fit into this box is by developing an eating disorder. And this is horrible, and heartbreaking, and it can end in death if not treated soon enough. And people often struggle with eating disorders their whole lives.
Books about/dealing with eating disorders
I want to see a YA book about a teenager who lost their leg in a car crash, about a boy or girl who was effected by thalidomide, about spina bifida, and the several thousand other ways someone might struggle because of a physical disability. And yet, I have read only a few.
Books that have characters with a physical disability
It’s getting more and more common to see a characters with autism or ADHD, but what about characters with cerebral palsy or epilepsy or dyscalculia or down syndrome? And not only do these things make daily life harder to function, but people with this disabilities tend to be discriminated against, which isn’t okay.
Books that have characters with a mental disability
This is a brain disorder that not a lot of people understand, and if there were more books about it, it might help people understand a little bit more. Especially because this isn’t a mental illness that ever goes away; taking medication will hopefully make it better, but it will never go away completely, and there’s a chance it will just keep getting worse.
Books that have characters with schizophrenia
Now, because the internet is a touchy place, I’m going to add two disclaimers; 1) this is not a full list. I could keep going forever on everything that books need more of. What about JRA? Or bipolar disorder? Or one of the several thousand others?THIS LIST IS NOWHERE NEAR COMPLETE. It is a small list of the many disorders and mental illnesses that plague humanity. Ad what about the things that aren’t illnesses or disorders? What about books with transgender or genderfluid characters? Before YA can really be called “diverse”, it has a long way to go.
And 2) I don’t want books that romanticize anything. That’s why I left Finding Aubrey off the list on anxiety. I want books that show the gritty truth, as painful as it might be to hear.
So, tell me blogglings, what other things do you think should be added to this list?
Happy Sunday (and happy Mother’s Day!)