7 Must-Read Fiction Novels That Highlight Mental Illness


Happy May, everyone! I am super excited about the blog this month because I will be posting articles supporting Mental Awareness Month! Since the pandemic, we have heard or seen various news stories or social media reels addressing mental health issues, and I must say that a lot of it is not at all positive. I believe that if we took more time to understand the struggles of those that suffer from these types of conditions, we wouldn’t be so quick to place them and their circumstances in a negative light.

To kick things off, I wanted to provide you with seven great reads that feature relatable characters who struggle with mental illness.

Fiction Novels That Highlight Mental Illness

1.Between The Bliss and Me by Lizzy Mason“When 18-year-old Sydney Holman announces that she has decided to attend NYU, her overprotective mom is devastated. Her decision means she will be living in the Big City instead of commuting to nearby Rutgers like her mom had hoped. It also means she’ll be close to off-limits but dreamy Grayson – a guitar prodigy who is going to Juilliard in the fall and very much isn’t single.

But while she dreams of her new life, Sydney discovers a world-changing truth about her father. She knew he left when she was little due to a drug addiction. But no one told her he had schizophrenia or that he was currently living on the streets of New York City. She seizes the opportunity to get to know him, to understand who he is and learn what may lie in store for her if she, too, is diagnosed.”

The great thing about this book is that it discusses the genetics of schizophrenia and highlights how many mentally ill individuals are incarcerated in America every year. If you are interested in learning about the history of mental health politics, this is the book you should get.

You can purchase your copy from The Collective Oakland.

2. White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson“Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty 10-year-old stepsister, Piper.

The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its…secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.

But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?”

This Young Adult psychological thriller takes a modern spin on a haunted house and still manages to highlight anxiety, OCD, and addiction. When you read this book, you’ll notice the OCD right off the bat. You would naturally expect a character to be anxious in a haunted house, but Tiffany penned the reality of anxiety perfectly in this book!

Purchase your copy from The Collective Oakland!

3. A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Novel Laureate John Nash by Sylvia Nasar“John Forbes Nash, Jr., a prodigy and legend by the age of 30, dazzled the mathematical world by solving a series of deep problems deemed “impossible” by other mathematicians.

But at the height of his fame, Nash suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown and began a harrowing descent into insanity, resigning his post at MIT, slipping into a series of bizarre delusions, and eventually becoming a dreamy, ghostlike figure at Princeton, scrawling numerological messages on blackboards. He was all but forgotten by the outside world – until, remarkably, he emerged from his madness to win the Nobel Prize.

A true drama, A Beautiful Mind is also a fascinating look at the extraordinary and fragile nature of genius.”

This oldie but goodie is not a light read, being that it is over 400 pages long. However, I promise you it is most definitely worth the read. If you find that you can’t get through it, you can also try the audiobook. The narrator did a beautiful job. The book was also adapted as a film, starring Russell Crow and Jennifer Connelly. You can get the audiobook here.

4. The Place Between Breaths by An Na“She is smart, responsible, and contending with more than what most teens ever should. Her mother struggled with schizophrenia for years until, one day, she simply disappeared—fleeing in fear that she was going to hurt those she cared about most. Ever since, Grace’s father has worked as a recruiter at one of the leading labs dedicated to studying the disease, trying to lure the world’s top scientists to the faculty to find a cure, hoping against hope it can happen in time to help his wife if she is ever found. But this makes him distant. Consumed.

With unflinching bravery, An Na has created a mesmerizing story with twists and turns that reveal jaw-dropping insights into the mind of someone struggling with schizophrenia.”

If you are looking for a good book for our middle-school readers, The Place Between Breaths has been written with those aged 12 and up in mind. I highly suggest this YA read that addresses schizophrenia.

Get your paperback copy here!

5. Tell Me Your Dreams by Sidney Sheldon – “She had read about stalkers, but they belonged in a different, faraway world. She had no idea who it could be, who would want to harm her. She was trying desperately not to panic, but lately her sleep had been filled with nightmares, and she had awakened each morning with a feeling of impending doom.

Thus begins Sidney Sheldon’s chilling new novel, Tell Me Your Dreams. Three beautiful young women are suspected of committing a series of brutal murders. The police make an arrest that leads to one of the most bizarre murder trials of the century. Based on actual events, Sheldon’s novel races from London to Rome to the city of Quebec to San Francisco, with a climax that will leave the reader stunned.”

Highlighting Dissociative Identity Disorder, this book is one of my ultimate favorites. Sidney has always been an amazing writer, but he completely outdid himself. The description gives you a hint as to what you can expect. You can get your paperback, hardback, or audiobook on Amazon.

6. The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris – “Sixteen-year-old Alex Rufus is trying his best. He tries to be the best employee he can be at the local ice cream shop; the best boyfriend he can be to his amazing girlfriend, Talia; the best protector he can be over his little brother, Isaiah. But as much as Alex tries, he often comes up short.

It’s hard for him to be present when every time he touches an object or person, Alex sees into its future. When he touches a scoop, he has a vision of him using it to scoop ice cream. When he touches his car, he sees it years from now, totaled and underwater. When he touches Talia, he sees them at the precipice of breaking up, and that terrifies him. Alex feels these visions are a curse, distracting him, making him anxious and unable to live an ordinary life.

And when Alex touches a photo that gives him a vision of his brother’s imminent death, everything changes.”

I won’t lie to you. This book is a very heavy read. For those who suffer from anxiety, you will immediately be able to identify with what Alex is going through. If you don’t have anxiety or have never had friends or family members who battle this illness, I hope this book will educate you on what you may not understand. If you don’t have this book on your shelf, go ahead and purchase your copy from The Collective Oakland.

7. What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee – “After his dad commits suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this exquisitely crafted story made up of 100 chapters of 100 words each, by award-winning and best-selling author Alison McGhee.

Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

When Will learns Playa was raped at a party…it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life…and it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again.”

This read highlights how losing a parent can cause life-altering depression. Although there are some dark moments, the light at the end of the book is most certainly worth the read. The 100 words in each chapter was a very cool thing Alison pulled off too! Grab your copy from The Collective Oakland.

As we become more and more aware of mental illness in our communities, especially amongst youth, authors are providing fiction and non-fiction works that discuss the effects these illnesses have on others, the treatments, and the genetics involved. This list only includes seven that I absolutely loved. But there are countless others not listed that I am sure you will enjoy.

Have a great weekend!