These books for kids and teens sensitively deal with tough topics and big emotions. Perfect for SEL units, these stories normalize mental health issues, promote the importance of self-care, and provide more resources for young readers who are struggling to process big emotions like anger, sadness, anxiety, and loss. Share these stories with young readers to let them know they are not alone.
Check out these new and upcoming titles featuring characters with neurodivergence:
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for readers of all ages.
The Wave by Tyler Charlton
When a boy is swept up in a wave of sadness, he finds himself tumbling. But when he remembers that this sadness won’t last forever, and that the wave will eventually carry him back to shore, he discovers his friends and family waiting to gently pull him out of the water and back home.
With hopeful text and gorgeous art, The Wave takes us on a journey through one child’s experience with depression that fosters empathy for those on the outside, and solidarity for those still caught in the midst of their own wave. It is an honest look at depression which affects almost 2 million children in the United States.
The Wave is a must-read for anyone who finds themselves tumbling, and a beautiful reminder that we can reach out to others to keep our heads – and hearts – above water.
The Worry Balloon by Mónica Mancillas; illustrated by Betty C. Tang
On the first day of school, Isla’s mind plays the what if game. Scary thoughts come, the world goes dark, and everything feels stormy. With Mami at her side, Isla takes a deep breath and blows her worries away in a big balloon. But as school gets closer, Isla’s worries come back like a tornado. Mami encourages her to imagine something happy, and Isla remembers there’s nothing she can’t handle.
The storm might come again, but for now, her mind is quiet.
In this thoughtful and reassuring picture book, Mónica Mancillas’s text and Betty C. Tang’s illustrations show how one child experiences anxiety and worry, providing different tools to practice mindfulness and strengthen one’s mental health.
I See You, Sad Bear by Vern Kousky
A poetic and comforting story that explores emotional literacy and friendship, perfect for fans of The Rabbit Listened and Be Kind.
Sad Bear, why are you so sad?
As we follow Sad Bear through a gloomy day, we can only guess at why he’s so blue.
Did you drop your ice cream on the ground?
Was it your birthday and did all your friends forget?
Or maybe there is no reason at all. You are just simply sad.
Soon a friend arrives and tries his best to cheer up Sad Bear. But the truth is, everyone gets sad, and sometimes all we need is a friend by our side.
Cape by Kevin Johnson; illustrated by Kitt Thomas
A young child learns that even superheroes hurt too in this heartrending story about loss and love, written by debut author Kevin Johnson and illustrated by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Kitt Thomas.
When a child loses the person in his life that he loves more than anything, he uses his cape as protection from his grief. On the day of the funeral, he uses it to block out the pictures and stories people share, refusing to acknowledge the memories that keep bubbling up. He won’t think about them. He doesn’t want to.
He avoids the memories, until he no longer can.
He remembers then. Their laugh, their smile, the moment they gave him the cape. The cape transforms, becoming a source of comfort and strength as the child navigates the sadness and joy that these memories bring up.
Where is Bina Bear? by Mike Curato
In Mike Curato’s funny, poignant picture book Where Is Bina Bear?, a little rabbit throws a party—but can’t find best friend Bina Bear anywhere!
Tiny is having a party, but Bina Bear is nowhere to be found. Is that Bina hiding under a lampshade? It looks like Bina . . . but it must be a lamp. Is that Bina beneath the fruit bowl? It could be . . . but it’s probably just a table.
Searching for Bina, Tiny realizes something is wrong—and sets out to make it right. This is a humorous yet sincere picture book about friendship, understanding, and embracing our loved ones just as they are.
How to Hug a Pufferfish by Ellie Peterson
So, you want to hug a pufferfish…
Who could blame you? That friendly, gap-toothed grin is hard to resist! Only, when Pufferfish is hugged or touched unexpectedly by their friends, things can get a little…spiky.
It’s not that Pufferfish doesn’t ever want hugs—it’s just that they need to have a say in when and how they’re hugged. Luckily, they have great friends who are willing to listen and learn the best ways to show Pufferfish some love and respect their personal space.
With it’s bright, commercial art and unique exploration of a timely topic, Ellie Peterson’s How to Hug a Pufferfish provides a straightforward and humorous look at consent and body autonomy for kids.
Tomatoes in my Lunchbox by Costantia Manoli; illustrated by Magdalena Mora
A moving picture book from a debut author about the first day of school, layered with themes about the immigrant experience and the universal experience of feeling out of place.
A child, newly arrived in another country, feels displaced, lonely, and a little scared on her first day of school. Her name doesn’t sound the way she’s used to hearing it. She knows she doesn’t fit in. And when she eats her whole tomato for lunch, she can feel her classmates observing her—and not quite understanding her.
But sometimes all it takes is one friend, one connection, to bring two worlds together, and gradually the girl, her tomato, and her full name, start to feel at home with her new friends and community.
This emotionally sweeping debut picture book by Costantia Manoli, with vibrant art by Magdalena Mora, artfully captures feelings of displacement and the joy that comes from forging new friendships.
See You Someday Soon by Pat Zietlow Miller; illustrated by Suzy Lee
From the author of the mega-bestseller Be Kind comes a picture book for anyone who’s ever loved someone far away.
Someday soon, I’ll see you.
Even though you are there.
And I am here.
So very far apart.
In this heartfelt picture book, a child imagines ways to connect with a grandmother who lives far way. Whether by rocket ship or jet pack, train or in a plane, any journey is worth it to see someone you love.
With an inviting, accessible text by Pat Zietlow Miller and inventive art from the critically-acclaimed illustrator Suzy Lee, this picture book reminds us that, no matter the physical distance between us, the people we care about are never far from our hearts. The book features clever and innovative die-cuts throughout, adding a creative, thoughtful and discussion-worthy novelty aspect to this layered and deeply emotional story.
Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster by Manka Kasha
An adorable, heartfelt picture book debut from Manka Kasha, Small Knight and the Anxiety Monster follows the magical quest of a knight finding the courage to confront an ever growing monster.
When Small Knight feels pressure from their parents to be a perfect princess, an anxiety monster shows up. No one else can see the monster, so Small Knight and their best friend Tiny Bear, decide that it is up to them to save themselves. They set off on a magical quest, only to discover that the answer was inside themselves all along. Turning to face the Anxiety Monster, they learn how to keep it under control.
Personal and whimsical, Manka Kasha’s debut picture book is a beautiful story about understanding your anxiety and finding the courage to face it.
What’s the Matter Marlo? by Andrew Arnold
A picture book about best friends that highlights empathy, as well as anger and sadness, and reminds us that these aren’t feelings to run away from, but instead to help each other through.
Marlo and Coco are best friends. They do everything together—they read together, laugh together, and play games together. After all, they’re best friends. And that’s what best friends do. But one day, when Coco asks Marlo to play, he doesn’t answer. Instead, Marlo turns away ignoring Coco, until he’s lost in his anger. Coco is worried about her friend, but then she remembers she can always find Marlo. In this charming, thoughtful picture book, author-illustrator Andrew Arnold explores empathy and sadness, and how friends can help each other navigate big emotions. Because that’s what best friends do.
A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon
A 2021 Caldecott Honor Book!
In this powerful, affirming poem by award-winning author Zetta Elliott, a Black child explores his shifting emotions throughout the year.
Summertime is filled with joy—skateboarding and playing basketball—until his community is deeply wounded by a police shooting. As fall turns to winter and then spring, fear grows into anger, then pride and peace.
In her stunning debut, illustrator Noa Denmon articulates the depth and nuances of a child’s experiences following a police shooting—through grief and protests, healing and community—with washes of color as vibrant as his words.
Here is a groundbreaking narrative that can help all readers—children and adults alike—talk about the feelings hiding deep inside each of us.
Wild Feelings by David Milgrim
Do you ever feel as stubborn as a mule? Or as chicken as a chicken? Of course you do. Everyone does.
In this lighthearted look at feelings, David Milgrim tenderly and humorously sketches the emotional range—from awkward to unnoticed, to really, rrrreally mad. Ultimately reassuring, this is a loving look at the normal, natural feelings we all have.
“Milgrim’s lighthearted illustrations and empathetic understanding of child behavior make this a first purchase and a good choice both for one-on-one discussions and for storytime.”—School Library Journal
Fergal and the Bad Temper by Robert Starling
A young dragon must learn to control his anger in this relatable picture book for fiery kids everywhere. Fergal the dragon does not like being told what to do. It’s not fair! And when things aren’t fair, Fergal loses his temper and snorts angry fire. He feels sorry afterward, but Fergal just can’t control his outbursts! After one really fiery day, his family and friends offer him some advice to calm down. Can this dragon learn to cool it before a temper tantrum hits?
“A useful, relatable lesson, enchantingly told.” —Booklist
“Succinctly and not so subtly conveys a message about tantrums that should settle comfortably on the ears and minds of young readers/listeners. The included strategies may prove helpful to children and harried adults struggling to calm angry youngsters during frustrated outbursts. Tempers will cool once kids meet Fergal.” —Kirkus Reviews
Already A Butterfly by Julia Alvarez; illustrations by Raúl Colón
A gentle picture book tale about self-soothing practices and self-confidence beliefs.
With so much to do in so little time, Mari is constantly on the move, flitting from flower to flower, practicing her camouflage poses, and planning for migration. She’s the busiest butterfly around. But does being productive mean she is happy? Mari couldn’t say. The only way she feels like a butterfly is by acting like one. Little does Mari know, the secret to feeling like herself is simply to focus her breath, find her quiet place, and follow her instincts. With the guidance of a thoughtful flower bud, Mari soon learns to meditate and appreciate that she was a butterfly all along.
Acclaimed author Julia Alvarez extolls the importance of mindfulness, reflection, and self-care for young children in this gratifying picture book, stunningly illustrated by award-winning artist Raúl Colón.
“Soft, textured illustrations full of floral elements match the gentle quality of the tale. In a world that can’t seem to slow down, this story reminds readers to trust their instincts and breathe.” —Kirkus Reviews
Do Not Go In There! by Ariel Horn, illustrated by Izzy Burton
An encouraging picture book that highlights the power of imagination while touching on themes of anxiety, curiosity, and bravery. Monsters Morton and Bogart are best friends. But they don’t always see eye to eye.
So when they encounter a closed door, anxious Bogart wants to keep it closed, because there must be something really bad on the other side. But Morton thinks it’ll be something amazing! Which is it?
Through bright, expressive illustrations, readers learn that, while not knowing can be frightening, being brave can lead to new discoveries. And even though your imagination can make it easy to worry, it can also make life better, less scary, and more fun.
A Little Space for Me by Jennifer Gray Olson
Have you ever felt that the world is just too much? Not merely what’s happening in the world, but the world itself: its scents, its sounds, its smells–the chaotic energy and the constant activity.
The little bespectacled protagonist of this deeply relatable picture book just wants to get a little distance, a little space, away from a world that can be both wonderful yet overwhelming. She creates space–to be interpreted as either alone time, or a general inner peace she feels from this alone time–and bottles it up, carrying it around with her whenever she needs it.
Gently exploring the healthiness of boundaries and alone time through adorable and awe-inspiring art, this book is perfect for larger storytimes and reading one-on-one, snug in your own space.
A Unicorn Came to Dinner by Lauren DeStefano; illustrated by Gaia Cornwall
A sweet and charming picture book about fear, anxiety, and unicorns. The unicorn smells nice, but she is very rude. She never waits for an invitation to come over—she walks right in and tracks heart-shaped hoof-prints across the carpet. She sits in Elizabeth’s chair and makes a complete mess of the house. She even sleeps in Elizabeth’s bed. But the unicorn is no ordinary unicorn…
In The Unicorn Came to Dinner, author Lauren DeStefano and illustrator Gaia Cornwall invite parents and their kids to talk about feelings—especially worries and anxiety—and ultimately about how to be yourself.
“Creatively integrating amusing, upbeat, and sympathetic elements, animated prose, and charming, expressive illustrations, this portrays how unfamiliar or new situations can impact children’s feelings and behaviors. Entertaining and ultimately reassuring, this will likely resonate with and be appreciated by kids and their adults alike.”—Booklist
The Gray by Chris Baron
The Gray is a sensitively told middle grade story from Chris Baron about living with anxiety and finding ways to cope.
It’s been a tough year for Sasha—he’s been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he calls the Gray, is growing. Sasha’s dad tells him to “toughen up”—and he does, but with unfortunate, hurtful results. His parents and therapist agree that a summer in the country with his aunt might be the best medicine, but it’s the last place he wants to be. He’ll be away from his best friend, video games, and stuck in the house that reminds him of his beloved uncle who died two years earlier.
His aunt is supportive, and there are lots of places to explore, and even some potential new friends. When Sasha is introduced at a local ranch to a horse coincidentally–incredibly–nicknamed the Gray, he feels he’s found a kindred spirit.
But his own Gray is ever-present. When one of his new friends disappears, Sasha discovers that the country is wilder and more mysterious than he imagined. He tries to muster enough courage to help in the search . . . but will the Gray hold him back?
Button Pusher by Tyler Page
A memoir-driven realistic graphic novel about Tyler, a child who is diagnosed with ADHD and has to discover for himself how to best manage it.
Tyler’s brain is different. Unlike his friends, he has a hard time paying attention in class. He acts out in goofy, over-the-top ways. Sometimes, he even does dangerous things—like cut up a bus seat with a pocketknife or hang out of an attic window.
To the adults in his life, Tyler seems like a troublemaker. But he knows that he’s not. Tyler is curious and creative. He’s the best artist in his grade, and when he can focus, he gets great grades. He doesn’t want to cause trouble, but sometimes he just feels like he can’t control himself.
In Button Pusher, cartoonist Tyler Page uses his own childhood experiences to explore what it means to grow up with ADHD. From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, Tyler’s story is raw and enlightening, inviting you to see the world from a new perspective.
Between the Lighthouse and You by Michelle Lee
A debut middle-grade novel about a town that can receive messages from the dead, and the young boy and girl who form an unlikely friendship to contact their lost loved ones and face their grief—perfect for fans of the New York Times–bestselling Wish by Barbara O’Connor.
Alice Jones’s mother died in a boating accident. Well, that’s what everyone says. Alice doesn’t believe them—her mother’s body was never recovered off the coast of Aviles Island, and Alice has always thought she might still be out there somewhere. Then Alice discovers that the residents of Aviles know how to communicate with loved ones who have died. If Alice can go there and try to contact her mother, she might have all the answers she needs.
For generations, Leo Mercury’s family has been in charge of the Aviles Island lighthouse, and Leo himself is determined to take after his beloved grandfather and be a Lighthouse Keeper one day. When nosy Alice Jones shows up for the festival, asking questions about the tidings that outsiders shouldn’t, Leo knows it’s up to him to protect the island’s traditions. But he starts to realize that he and Alice may actually want the same things—and together, they can believe in the impossible, even if no one else will.
Between the Lighthouse and You is an emotional, heartwarming story about love, grief, and letting go.
In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington
From the author of the critically acclaimed novel For Black Girls Like Me, Mariama J. Lockington, comes a coming-of-age story surrounding the losses that threaten to break us and the friendships that make us whole again.
Thirteen-year-old Andi feels stranded after the loss of her mother, the artist who swept color onto Andi’s blank canvas. When she is accepted to a music camp, Andi finds herself struggling to play her trumpet like she used to before her whole world changed. Meanwhile, Zora, a returning camper, is exhausted trying to please her parents, who are determined to make her a flute prodigy, even though she secretly has a dancer’s heart.
At Harmony Music Camp, Zora and Andi are the only two Black girls in a sea of mostly white faces. In kayaks and creaky cabins, the two begin to connect, unraveling their loss, insecurities, and hopes for the future. And as they struggle to figure out who they really are, they may just come to realize who they really need: each other.
In the Key of Us is a lyrical ode to music camp, the rush of first love, and the power of one life-changing summer.
Smaller Sister by Maggie Edkins Willis
Maggie Edkins Willis’s Smaller Sister is a debut middle grade graphic novel about body image, confidence, and the everlasting bond of sisterhood.
Lucy’s always looked up to her big sister, Olivia, even though the two are polar opposites. But then, Lucy notices Olivia start to change. She doesn’t want to play with Lucy anymore, she’s unhappy with the way she looks, and she’s refusing to eat her dinner. Finally, Lucy discovers that her sister is not just growing up: Olivia is struggling with an eating disorder.
While her family is focused on her sister’s recovery, Lucy is left alone to navigate school and friendships. And just like her big sister, she begins to shrink.
But with time, work, and a dose of self-love, both sisters begin to heal and let themselves grow. Soon enough, Olivia and Lucy find their way back to each other—because sisters are the one friend you can never ditch.
Friends Forever by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Ages 10 – 14
Following up their mega-bestselling Real Friends and Best Friends graphic memoirs, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham are back with Friends Forever, a story about learning to love yourself exactly as you are.
Shannon is in eighth grade, and life is more complicated than ever. Everything keeps changing, her classmates are starting to date each other (but nobody wants to date her!), and no matter how hard she tries, Shannon can never seem to just be happy.
As she works through her insecurities and undiagnosed depression, she worries about disappointing all the people who care about her. Is something wrong with her? Can she be the person everyone expects her to be? And who does she actually want to be?
With their signature humor, warmth, and insight, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham have crafted another incredible love letter to their younger selves and to readers everywhere, a reminder to us all that we are enough.
My Thoughts Are Clouds: Poems for Mindfulness by Georgia Heard; illustrated by Isabel Roxas
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A poetry collection that both illustrates what mindfulness is and encourages young, growing minds to be present, from poet and educator Georgia Heard, with art by Isabel Roxas.
Poets have long observed the world in a mindful way. They point out beauty we might have missed, draw our attention to our inner thoughts, and call us to see our society in new ways.
But as daily life become more and more chaotic, children grow distracted. According to the CDC, 9.4% of children have ADHD and 7% have anxiety/depression. And these numbers continue to climb. As treatment doctors recommend healthy eating, physical activity, plenty of sleep, and mindfulness techniques.
Georgia Heard is a poet and educator—and she has long had her own meditation practice. In My Thoughts Are Clouds, she uses poetry to demonstrate what mindfulness is and gives kids—and their parents and teachers—accessible ways to learn mindfulness tools.
A Thousand Minutes to Sunlight by Jen White
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Jen White’s A Thousand Minutes to Sunlight is a sensitively-written middle grade novel about a girl struggling with anxiety, family secrets, and the meaning of friendship.
Cora is constantly counting the minutes. It’s the only thing that stops her brain from rattling with worry, from convincing her that danger is up ahead. Afraid of the unknown, Cora spends her days with her feet tucked into sand, marveling at La Quinta beach’s giant waves and her little sister Sunshine’s boundless energy.
And then danger really does show up at Cora’s doorstep—her absentee uncle, whose sudden presence in the middle of the night makes her parents nervous and secretive. As dawn breaks once more, Cora must piece together her family and herself, one minute at a time.
A Thousand Minutes to Sunlight is an endearing and revelatory middle-grade novel that is perfect for fans of Counting by 7s and Fish in a Tree.
Breathing Underwater by Sarah Allen
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“In Breathing Underwater, Sarah Allen has created characters so alive and compelling that readers will root for them every mile of this moving, heartfelt journey.” —Dan Gemeinhart, author of The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
A sparkly, moving middle grade novel from Sarah Allen, and a big-hearted exploration of sisterhood, dreams, and what it means to be there for someone you love.
Olivia is on the road trip of her dreams, with her trusty camera and her big sister Ruth by her side. Three years ago, before their family moved from California to Tennessee, Olivia and Ruth buried a time capsule on their favorite beach. Now, they’re taking an RV back across the country to uncover the memories they left behind. But Ruth’s depression has been getting worse, so Olivia has created a plan to help her remember how life used to be: a makeshift scavenger hunt across the country, like pirates hunting for treasure, taking pictures and making memories along the way.
All she wants is to take the picture that makes her sister smile. But what if things can never go back to how they used to be? What if they never find the treasure they’re seeking? Through all the questions, loving her sister, not changing her, is all Olivia can do—and maybe it’s enough.
Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy
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A young girl with an eating disorder must find the strength to recover in this moving middle-grade novel from Jen Petro-Roy, an eating disorder survivor and activist. Good Enough is a realistic depiction of inpatient eating disorder treatment, and a moving story about a girl who has to fight herself to survive
“[A] supportive, honest, and empowering novel about mental health.” —Booklist
“Every library needs Good Enough on its shelves. Lyrical, funny, honest and brave, this is a book that will save lives.” —Katherine Applegate, New York Times-bestselling author of Wishtree and Crenshaw
You Are Enough by Jen Petro-Roy
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This nonfiction self-help book for young readers with disordered eating and body image problems delivers real talk about eating disorders and body image, tools and information for recovery, and suggestions for dealing with the media messages that contribute so much to disordered eating.
Many eating disorder books are written in a way that leaves many people out of the eating disorder conversation, and this book is written with a special eye to inclusivity, so that people of any gender, socioeconomic group, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or chronic illness can benefit.
“Resources on eating disorders for the middle-grade set are few and far between, but Petro-Roy writes for this age group with knowledge, compassion, empathy, and inclusivity.”—Booklist
“This compassionate work offers insight and options for eating disorder recovery…An excellent choice for libraries needing new eating disorder resources, especially those serving middle schoolers.”—School Library Journal
The Fall by James Preller
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An unflinching book about bullying and teen suicide from acclaimed author James Preller.
“A compelling look at the aftermath of bullying, from the bully’s perspective…Readers will relate to the teen, who’s less a bully than an average guy who gives in to peer pressure and inaction. This fast-paced story will spark discussion on cyberbullying, depression, and how to deal with tragic events.” —School Library Journal
Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz
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A girl deals with friendship, family, and OCD in this classic-feeling, debut middle-grade novel by Elly Swartz.
“With middle school friendships and family relationships at its heart, this novel offers an empathetic guide to coping with a mental health issue.” —School Library Journal
Give and Take by Elly Swartz
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A MacKids Staff Pick! Marketing Manager Kristen Luby says, “Seventh grader Maggie is dealing with a lot of change: her family is fostering a newborn who is going to her forever home soon, Maggie’s grandmother recently passed away, and her friend is leaving their trapshooting squad. To cope with these changes, Maggie begins to save mementos in a box beneath her bed–but soon her collection grows beyond her control. With the guidance of her new therapist, Maggie learns that loss and change are part of life–and you can rely on family and friends to help navigate those changes. This is a sweet and sensitive book about childhood anxiety that will help young readers process big emotions.”
How to Make Friends with the Sea by Tanya Guerrero
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A middle grade debut novel set in the Philippines about a young boy’s challenges with anxiety while his mother fosters an orphaned child with a facial anomaly.
★ “Guerrero touches on many topics—anxiety, fostering, friendship, family, selective mutism, and more—seamlessly weaving them all together to create a strong, moving narrative. […] A heartbreaking, heartwarming, powerful debut novel.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Saints of the Household by Ari Tison
Saints of the Household is a haunting contemporary YA about an act of violence in a small-town–beautifully told by a debut Indigenous Costa Rican-American writer–that will take your breath away.
Max and Jay have always depended on one another for their survival. Growing up with a physically abusive father, the two Bribri American brothers have learned that the only way to protect themselves and their mother is to stick to a schedule and keep their heads down.
But when they hear a classmate in trouble in the woods, instinct takes over and they intervene, breaking up a fight and beating their high school’s star soccer player to a pulp. This act of violence threatens the brothers’ dreams for the future and their beliefs about who they are. As the true details of that fateful afternoon unfold over the course of the novel, Max and Jay grapple with the weight of their actions, their shifting relationship as brothers, and the realization that they may be more like their father than they thought. They’ll have to reach back to their Bribri roots to find their way forward.
Told in alternating points of view using vignettes and poems, debut author Ari Tison crafts an emotional, slow-burning drama about brotherhood, abuse, recovery, and doing the right thing.
We Are All So Good at Smiling by Amber McBride
They Both Die at the End meets The Bell Jar in this haunting, beautiful young adult novel-in-verse about clinical depression and healing from trauma, from National Book Award Finalist Amber McBride.
Whimsy is back in the hospital for treatment of clinical depression. When she meets a boy named Faerry, she recognizes they both have magic in the marrow of their bones. And when Faerry and his family move to the same street, the two start to realize that their lifelines may have twined and untwined many times before.
They are both terrified of the forest at the end of Marsh Creek Lane.
The Forest whispers to Whimsy. The Forest might hold the answers to the part of Faerry he feels is missing. They discover the Forest holds monsters, fairy tales, and pain that they have both been running from for 11 years.
The Minus-One Club by Kekla Magoon
From the Coretta Scott King and Printz Honor-winning author of How It Went Down, Light It Up, and Revolution In Our Time comes a moving contemporary YA novel about the bonds between a group of teens whose lives have been upended by tragedy.
Fifteen-year-old Kermit Sanders knows grief and its all-encompassing shadows. After losing his beloved older sister in a tragic car accident, nothing quite punctures through the feelings of loss. Everywhere Kermit goes, he is reminded of her.
But then Kermit finds a mysterious invitation in his locker, signed anonymously with “-1.” He has no idea what he’s in for, but he shows up to find out. Dubbed the “Minus-One Club,” a group of his schoolmates has banded together as a form of moral support. The members have just one thing in common—they have all suffered the tragic loss of someone they loved.
The usual dividing lines between high school classes and cliques don’t apply inside the Minus-One Club, and Kermit’s secret crush, the handsome and happy-go-lucky Matt (and only out gay student at school), is also a part of the group. Slowly, Matt’s positive headstrong approach to life helps relieve Kermit of his constant despair.
But as Kermit grows closer to Matt, the light of his new life begins to show the cracks beneath the surface. When Matt puts himself in danger by avoiding his feelings, Kermit must find the strength to not only lift himself back up but to help the rest of the group from falling apart.
Forever is Now by Mariama J. Lockington
A poignant and lyrical young adult novel-in-verse about a Black teen coming of age in an anxiety-inducing world, from the author of For Black Girls Like Me and In the Key of Us.
I’m safe here.
That’s how Sadie feels, on a perfect summer day, wrapped in her girlfriend’s arms. School is out, and even though she’s been struggling to manage her chronic anxiety, Sadie is hopeful better times are ahead. Or at least, she thought she was safe. When her girlfriend reveals some unexpected news and the two witness a violent incident of police brutality unfold before them, Sadie’s whole world is upended in an instant.
I’m not safe anywhere.
That’s how Sadie feels every day after—vulnerable, uprooted. She retreats inside as the weeks slip by and relies on her phone to stay connected to the outside world. When Sadie’s therapist gives her a diagnosis for her debilitating panic—agoraphobia—she starts on a path of acceptance and healing. Meanwhile, Sadie’s best friend, Evan, updates her on the protests taking place in their city. Sadie wants to be a part of it, to use her voice and affect change. But how do you show up for your community when you can’t even leave your house?
I can build a safe place inside myself.
That’s what Sadie learns over the course of one life-changing summer, with some help from her family, her best friend, an online platform for activists, and a magnetic crush she develops for the new boy next door.
From Stonewall Honor–winning author Mariama J. Lockington comes Forever is Now, a powerful young adult novel-in-verse about mental health, love, family, Black joy, and finding your voice and power in an unforgiving world.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
With four starred reviews, Angeline Boulley’s debut novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter, is a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, perfect for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.
Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team.
Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.
Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.
Now, as the deceptions—and deaths—keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.
Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore
In this young adult novel by award-winning author Anna-Marie McLemore, two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake – but can they keep their worlds above water intact?
Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.
Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.
We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds
Family secrets, a swoon-worthy romance, and a slow-burn mystery collide in We Deserve Monuments, a YA debut from Jas Hammonds that explores how racial violence can ripple down through generations.
What’s more important? Knowing the truth or keeping the peace?
Seventeen-year-old Avery Anderson is convinced her senior year is ruined when she’s uprooted from her life in DC and forced into the hostile home of her terminally ill grandmother, Mama Letty. The tension between Avery’s mom and Mama Letty makes for a frosty arrival and unearths past drama they refuse to talk about. Every time Avery tries to look deeper, she’s turned away, leaving her desperate to learn the secrets that split her family in two.
While tempers flare in her avoidant family, Avery finds friendship in unexpected places: in Simone Cole, her captivating next-door neighbor, and Jade Oliver, daughter of the town’s most prominent family—whose mother’s murder remains unsolved.
As the three girls grow closer—Avery and Simone’s friendship blossoming into romance—the sharp-edged opinions of their small southern town begin to hint at something insidious underneath. The racist history of Bardell, Georgia is rooted in Avery’s family in ways she can’t even imagine. With Mama Letty’s health dwindling every day, Avery must decide if digging for the truth is worth toppling the delicate relationships she’s built in Bardell—or if some things are better left buried.
The Sea is Salt and So Am I by Cassandra Hartt
I’ll Give You the Sun meets Normal People in Cassandra Hartt’s The Sea Is Salt and So Am I, a stunning YA contemporary debut that asks if the secrets we keep and the people we love can change who we are.
West Finch is one hurricane away from falling into the sea.
Yet sixteen-year-old Harlow Prout is determined to save her small Maine hometown. If only she could stop getting in her own way and find someone, anyone, willing to help. But her best friend Ellis MacQueen “fixes” problems by running away from them—including his broken relationship with his twin brother, Tommy. And Tommy’s depression has hit a new low, so he’s not up for fixing anything.
In the wake of the town’s latest devastating storm, Tommy goes out for a swim that he doesn’t intend to survive. It’s his unexpected return that sets into motion a sea change between these three teens. One that tests old loyalties, sparks new romance, and uncovers painful secrets. And nothing stays secret in West Finch for long.
Exquisitely honest and shimmering with emotion, The Sea is Salt and So Am I is a captivating multi-POV story that probes the depths of what it means to love and trust—both ourselves and others.
The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith
For fans of John Green and Emily X.R. Pan, The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith is a coming-of-age story and an empathetic, authentic exploration of grief with a sharp sense of humor and a big heart.
It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:
1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.
2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.
But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.
On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again.
Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller
In Blade of Secrets, the first book in Tricia Levenseller’s exciting new YA fantasy duology, a teenage blacksmith with social anxiety is forced to go on the run to protect the world from the most powerful magical sword she’s ever made.
Eighteen-year-old Ziva prefers metal to people. She spends her days tucked away in her forge, safe from society and the anxiety it causes her, using her magical gift to craft unique weapons imbued with power.
Then Ziva receives a commission from a powerful warlord, and the result is a sword capable of stealing its victims secrets. A sword that can cut far deeper than the length of its blade. A sword with the strength to topple kingdoms. When Ziva learns of the warlord’s intentions to use the weapon to enslave all the world under her rule, she takes her sister and flees.
Joined by a distractingly handsome mercenary and a young scholar with extensive knowledge of the world’s known magics, Ziva and her sister set out on a quest to keep the sword safe until they can find a worthy wielder or a way to destroy it entirely.
Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas
When children start to go missing in the local woods, a teen girl must face her fears and a past she can’t remember to rescue them in this atmospheric YA novel, Lost in the Never Woods from the author of Cemetery Boys.
It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into the light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road…
Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, asks for Wendy’s help to rescue the missing kids. But, in order to find them, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.
Your Brain Needs A Hug by Rae Earl
Imbued with a sense of humor, understanding, and hope, Your Brain Needs a Hug is a judgment-free guide for living well with your mind.
Author Rae Earl offers her personalized advice on the A to Zs of mental health, social media, family and friendship. When she was a teenager, Rae dealt with OCD, anxiety, and an eating disorder, but she survived, and she thrived. Your Brain Needs a Hug is filled with her friendly advice, coping strategies and laugh-out-loud moments to get you through the difficult days.
Check our Kirkus’s list of “Teen Books for Anxious Times” here.
★ “A validating, hopeful, and practical guide to mental health… heartfelt and honest…Teens struggling with mental illness will find comfort and valuable information in this superlative guide.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
A Breath Too Late by Rocky Callen
For fans of Girl in Pieces, All the Bright Places, and Girl, Interrupted comes a haunting and breathtaking YA contemporary debut novel that packs a powerful message: hope can be found in the darkness. Seventeen-year-old Ellie had no hope left. Yet the day after she dies by suicide, she finds herself in the midst of an out-of-body experience. She is a spectator, swaying between past and present, retracing the events that unfolded prior to her death.
Told in epistolary-like style, Rocky Callen’s deeply moving A Breath Too Late sensitively examines the beautiful and terrible moments that make up a life and the possibilities that live in even the darkest of places. Perfect for fans of the critically-acclaimed Speak, I’ll Give You the Sun, and If I Stay.
“Bittersweet and haunting… The most important point made in the heartbreaking story is that there is nothing romantic about suicide. Ellie realizes that with her last breath, regretting her decision. Callen includes resources for suicide prevention and domestic abuse at the end.”—Booklist
“An amazing and wrenching story. I loved so much: the heart-rending anguish and tragedy of realizing you love life when it’s too late, the poetic, lyrical prose, the transcendent, adorable love story, and the emotional roller-coaster of it all. It’s terrific, a gut punch.”—Jandy Nelson, Printz Award winner
“A memorable, hopeful story of regret.” — Kirkus Reviews
Miss You Hate You Love You Bye by Abby Sher
A darkly comic and heartbreakingly honest YA novel about finding the courage to help a friend who can’t stop hurting herself.
When Zoe’s parents unexpectedly divorce, Zoe’s perfect facade starts cracking little by little. Sinking under the weight of her broken family, Zoe develops an eating disorder. Now she must rely on her friend Hank for help. Hank struggles to help Zoe; after all, she is used to agreeing, not leading. How can she help her best friend get better before it’s too late?
★ “Here’s how to speak up even if it hurts.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott
A heartwrenching YA coming of age story about three siblings on a road trip in search of healing.
“American Road Trip holds true to classic road-trip themes like the emotional power of singalongs and unexpected detours, but it also wades into the darker waters of mental illness with both realism and sensitivity.”—The New York Times
★ “A road trip that brings to life the Avilas’ Latino heritage and Manny’s disorder…it celebrates many things: family love, realized dreams, and the taste of a green chile cheeseburger. ” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
★ Booklist starred review
★ School Library Journal starred review
Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliot
Perfect is only on the surface in this gripping novel about a teen girl who looks normal but struggles with a little known eating disorder.
“Elliot’s novel helps to fill a gap within teen narratives about disordered eating.” —Kirkus Review
“A well-written page-turner whose sensitive topic is covered with finesse and grace. This novel would be a worthy addition to a high school library collection.” —School Library Journal
After the Death of Anna Gonzalez by Terri Fields
A powerful look at the effects of one girl’s suicide on her high school. Brutally honest and authentic in tone, this young adult novel-in-verse centers on the suicide of high school freshman Anna Gonzales. Each piece, read alone, portrays a classmate’s or teacher’s personal reaction to the loss, taken hard by some, by others barely noticed. Read together, the poems create a richly textured and moving testimony to the rippling effects of one girl’s devastating choice. Terri Fields has written a thought-provoking, important work that resonates with both pain and hope. This is a book of poetry that will stay with readers long after they put it down.
“Readers will gain some important insight into the serious issue of teen suicide through this treatment of the topic.” —School Library Journal
“The poems are natural and direct, and portray a high-school setting well, showing a diversity of experiences… A resource for dealing with teen suicide, this will be useful in most YA library collections.” —Kirkus Reviews
PTSD by Guillaume Singelin
Singelin’s PTSD is an adult fiction graphic novel that grapples with the reality of being a war veteran about a traumatized war vet who must fend for herself against all odds.
After returning home from an unpopular war, Jun becomes an outsider in an indifferent world. Alone, desperate, and suffering from wounds both mental and physical, she seeks relief in the illicit drugs she manages to purchase or steal. Jun’s tough exterior served her well in combat, but she’ll need to nurture her vulnerability and humanity to survive at home. With the support of her fellow vets, the kindness of a stranger who refuses to turn away, and the companionship of a dog named Red, Jun learns to navigate the psychological trauma that she experienced in the war.
★ “Unlike in macho tales of grit and glory, Singelin infuses his story and characters with deep, simmering warmth…This is a gorgeous meditation on the lingering horrors of war.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“French-Laotian creator Singelin creates a gritty and suffocatingly detailed atmosphere, with candy-coated coloring that ebbs into a grimy color wash…Teens interested in cutting-edge comics will appreciate this eerie tale.” —School Library Journal
“How are we meant to feel about the violence that has undone so many? Its moral, however, is unassailable: to reconnect with the world, you must lend a helping hand to others but—equally important—accept one when it’s offered to you. Having a scrappy dog at your side can’t hurt, either.” —Booklist
Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across: Poems by Mary Lambert by Mary Lambert
Beautiful and brutally honest, Mary Lambert’s poetry is a beacon to anyone who’s ever been knocked down—and picked themselves up again. In verse that deals with sexual assault, mental illness, and body acceptance, Ms. Lambert’s Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across emerges as an important new voice in poetry, providing strength and resilience even in the darkest of times.
Mary Lambert is a multifaceted artist—a singer, songwriter, musician, and poet. Along with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, she is the talent behind the incredible Grammy-nominated single “Same Love.” A mental health advocate and LGBTQ activist, Mary lives in Seattle, Washington.
Find resources for talking to kids and teens about current events here.
Not sure how to talk to kids about what’s happening in world events? We’ve rounded up some books that provide an accessible way to talk to kids about lessons we can learn from history, and also included some books to use as resources for media literacy. Plus, see below to find journal entry prompts to help your kids process their emotions.