12 Young Adult Novels Featuring Characters With Chronic Conditions, Mental Illnesses and Disabilities

Veronica Vivona
Ya Novels Chronic Illness and Mental Health
Ya Novels Chronic Illness and Mental Health

Books can provide an entertaining escape from reality, even if just for a few chapters. You can read about places you’ve never been to and learn about different types of people, cultures and life experiences.

A lot of the time though, it can be difficult to find characters and storylines you directly relate to. That’s why it can be completely magical when you find a book that shows what it’s like to live with a chronic illness, disability or mental health condition.

Young adult novels are some of the most popular types of books out there. When characters in these stories have a health condition, it lends much-needed awareness to what it’s like to be young and live with health challenges or be impacted by a loved one’s illness. Plus, it’s nice to read something you can personally relate to.

If you’re looking for young adult novels with characters you can relate to as someone with a chronic illness, disability or mental health condition, check out some of these options.

Related:Why the 'Student Debt Forgiveness' Debate Needs to Consider Chronic Illness

1. ‘Rarity’ by D.A. Roach

rarity YA novel
rarity YA novel

Related:Why Setting Boundaries Is Important for Mental and Physical Self-Care

“Rarity” by D.A. Roach follows Brogen, an empath who is overwhelmed by the energies of those around her. Brogen’s journey leads her to Jay who lives with vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (vEDS). The book shows how Jay’s life is impacted by the condition and how it affects him not only as a high schooler but how it affects his potential future as well.

2. ‘Wintergirls’ by Laurie Halse Anderson

wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Related:To the Girl Who Was Just Diagnosed With a Chronic Illness

“Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson is about Lia and her friendship with Cassie. Both girls have eating disorders but when Cassie suddenly dies, Lia is left with a lot to figure out. She works towards her own recovery and continues to search for hope all while mourning the death of her friend.

3. ‘Carve the Mark’ by Veronica Roth

carve the mark by veronica roth
carve the mark by veronica roth

A dystopian novel, Veronica Roth’s “Carve the Mark” follows teens Cyra and Akos. They are on opposing sides of a battle for control of the planet they share. In this story, Cyra has the gift of being able to inflict pain onto others. However, she also lives with chronic pain herself. The novel shows her fight for survival and what it’s truly like to always be in pain.

4. ‘All the Bright Places’ by Jennifer Niven

all the bright places cover
all the bright places cover

“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven has two main characters: Violet and Theodore. They meet at the top of the bell tower at their school. Both have dealt with their fair share of struggles including grief and suicidal thoughts. Theodore decides he wants to help Violet with what she’s going through and thus, an adventure ensues.

5. ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ by John Green

turtles all the way down cover
turtles all the way down cover

In John Green’s “Turtles All the Way Down,” protagonist Aza is investigating a mystery revolving around a fugitive billionaire, all the while trying to do her best. Aza lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder and has “spiraling thoughts” that cause anxiety. Readers follow Aza on her journey which is less about the billionaire and more about her.

6. ‘Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling’ by Lucy Frank

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank
Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

“Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling” by Lucy Frank follows two teen girls, Francesca and Shannon, both of whom live with Crohn’s disease. The teens share a hospital room, but there’s a curtain hanging between them. The novel is written in a way that reflects the parallel stories, with a line dividing the pages like the curtain dividing the room. It’s a book about friendship and finding comfort in someone else who is going through the same things you are.

7. ‘It Only Happens in the Movies’ by Holly Bourne

it only happens in the movies cover
it only happens in the movies cover

“It Only Happens in the Movies” by Holly Bourne follows Audrey who is tired of romance. She gets a job at the movie theater in hopes to distract her from her home life. Her mother struggles with her mental health, which causes Audrey’s perspective of life to change. The narrative shows how someone else’s mental health can ultimately affect yours as well.

8. ‘The Weight of Zero’ by Karen Fortunati

the weight of zero cover
the weight of zero cover

Karen Fortunati’s “The Weight of Zero” revolves around Catherine, a teen living with bipolar disorder. She also has depression and experiences suicidal thoughts. Catherine sets out to complete a bucket list of things she wants to accomplish and starts to realize she might not want to die after all.

9. ‘The Memory Book’ by Lara Avery

the memory book cover
the memory book cover

Protagonist Sammie has Niemann-Pick disease type C in Lara Avery’s “The Memory Book.” Her rare disease is degenerative, causing the teen to forget things in addition to other symptoms. Sammie has plans though. She wants to be successful so she can move away from her hometown — and works hard to do so. Knowing she won’t remember any of her accomplishments, she starts writing a book for her future self to read.

10. ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Cover
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Cover

Charlie is quiet in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky. He wants to stay in the background, but at the same time, he wants to enjoy his life. Having gone through a personal trauma as a child, Charlie does his best to try new things as a high schooler. Readers follow Charlie as he learns more about his personal experiences and how they affect his mental health.

11. ‘When My Heart Joins the Thousand’ by A. J. Steiger

When My Heart Joins the Thousand
When My Heart Joins the Thousand

“When My Heart Joins the Thousand” by A.J. Steiger gives some much-needed representation to what’s it’s like to be a woman on the autism spectrum through its main character Alvie. No longer living with her family, she meets Stanley who has a musculoskeletal disorder and uses a cane to avoid injuring his fragile bones. The two start to form a bond until Alvie realizes that being vulnerable isn’t necessarily easy due to her own past experiences.

12. ‘Five Feet Apart’ by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis

five feet apart cover
five feet apart cover

Stella and Will both live with cystic fibrosis in “Five Feet Apart” by Rachael Lippincott with Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. In order to keep themselves safe from infection, they need to stay at least six feet apart from one another. But as the two get to know each other, that becomes easier said than done.

Did we miss any YA novels? Let us know in the comments below!

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