- Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles through Fictional Characters by Kia Jane Richmond
Kia Jane Richmond's Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles through Fictional Characters provides an introductory overview to young adult (YA) novels that prominently feature representations of mental illness. As Richmond makes clear in her introduction, this study is a response to the influx of YA literature featuring mental illness; as such, it builds "on this renaissance of research focused on mental illness issues in young adult literature, categorizing and explaining how mental disorders (and the characters who have them) are portrayed in 21st-century young adult literature" (7). Although this book certainly appeals to a broad range of scholars interested in children's literature and disability studies, it is specifically tailored to readers who work with youth in schools, libraries, and psychiatric settings. Indeed, librarians and mental-health professionals who work with youth can use this book to find recommendations for young adult novels that they may share with youth or use to understand adolescent experiences with mental illness, not least because it includes a substantial list of texts for a classroom library, gives suggestions for curricular units, and offers specific lesson plans and activities to make starting such a unit accessible. Overall, this text provides an introductory overview to the topic of mental illness in [End Page 123] YA literature, making it a practical resource for youth practitioners looking for guidance in how to analyze such novels and productively recommend them to secondary school readers.
The book's ten chapters are each focused on a specific type of mental illness as categorized by the DSM-5, a publication from the American Psychological Association that is "a respected resource on mental disorders used by most American mental-health professionals" (4). Such chapters include Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Schizophrenia Spectrum, Bipolar Disorder, Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders, Feeding and Eating Disorders, Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders, and Nonsuicidal Self-Injury and Suicidal Behavior Disorders. Each chapter has the same organizational structure: readers are given a definition of the disorder; information about related and comorbid disorders (that is, disorders that often accompany one another, such as depression and substance-related disorders), and currently available treatment options. These categories are meant to help the reader determine how accurately a given novel depicts a given mental illness. Richmond highlights books that she has deemed as both positive and negative representations of mental illness. With at least two close readings of YA novels per chapter, Richmond provides a thorough summary of each book, looking specifically at the novel's plot, as well its depiction of warning signs/symptoms/diagnosis, psychiatric treatment, and reactions from peers, parents, and others. The end of each chapter details a list of further recommendations, most of which are additional YA books. While the focus is on these aforementioned texts, Richmond also provides some supplementary nonfiction and adult fiction books.
One limitation of Richmond's study is that it is firmly rooted in the "medical model," a perspective of disability studies that reduces "the complex problems of disabled people to issues of medical prevention, cure, or rehabilitation," as opposed to emphasizing social barriers, such as lack of access (Shakespeare 198). This model can be complicated when it comes to mental illness because people with mental illness often do take advantage of medical care, while still critiquing the ideological biases of "medical representations, diagnoses, and treatments of bodily variation" (Kafer 6). One example of the repercussions of this limitation in Richmond's analysis occurs in her discussion of Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story (2006). This novel tells the story of Craig, a student at a high-pressure high school in New York City who has depression and is hospitalized for suicide ideation. Prior to this event, Craig had been seeing a psychopharmacologist who had prescribed him Zoloft, but Craig stops taking his medication once he starts to feel better. He thinks, "Pills were for wimps, and this...