In no particular order… although the book that impressed me the most when I first read it was Girl, Interrupted. It made me think about mental illness and and how there have always been illnesses that are categorized as “male” or “female”. It’s definitely a book about feminism and freedom as much as it is about mental health and growing up. Even though Kaysen’s story took place in the 60s I think it’s still relevant today and fourteen-year-old me could absolutely relate to Kaysen and her problems. I’ve read the book a few times and I still watch the movie adaptation from time to time. Both are absolutely wonderful and heartbreaking and life-affirming – in a really good and not corny way!!
Having gotten into the genre of fictionalized retellings of mental illnesses I tried to find other books like this. And one I loved as a teen was I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green. I don’t remember too much of the plot, but I do remember that I found Green’s account of schizophrenia and mental hospitals a lot less relatable and very very frightening. I might pick this one up again sometime, just to see if it holds up to the years that have passed and if I still find it as interesting as I did then…
Matt Ruff’s Set this House in Order is something different when it comes to dealing with mental health. He – true to himself – combines this topic with a dose of humour. The main character in this novel has dissociative identity disorder, which is pictured as many personalities living in the main characters head/house. Wonderfully done and definitely to be taken seriously – if with a pinch of salt!
Having read a few accounts like Green’s and Kaysen’s I kept looking for the topic of mental health in novels and I still feel drawn to the topic today.
Two newer novels that I absolutely loved were Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching and Meg Howrey’s The Cranes Dance.
White is for Witching is not a typical account of mental illness, it is in some parts mysterious and very gothic going on magical. It deals with death in the family, with sisterhood, and eating disorders but there is so much more to it. Even after finishing it I was not entirely sure what happened to the characters and what the house was a metaphor for. It was confusing, unsettling and beautiful.
Sisterhood is also a theme in Howrey’s novel and as it deals with professional ballerinas it’s almost obvious that it also deals with eating disorders. I have written a full review for The Cranes Dance here.
All of these books were great and all of them have been important to me at one time in my life. Some of them still are. That’s why they are my favourites.