All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Finch and Violet have a common goal when the meet on the edge of the bell tower at their school. Though everyone believes Violet saves Finch from a suicide attempt, she’s not so sure that’s the truth. At first an incongruous pair, the two are slung together for a class project in which they must explore their home state. During the course of their adventures, Violet and Finch draw closer together, but their relationship may not be enough to save them from the dark pull of tragedy.

A brilliant new addition to the realm of realistic fiction. Niven gives readers a little bit of romance, hilarious adventure antics and, of course, Kleenex-worthy sadness. This is also a poignant, unflinching look at mental illness in teens — a subject that is often danced carefully around. I think it’s important to read novels like this, where truths are discussed without shame. I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers, but pick this one up if you’re looking for your next heavy read.

Rating: 4/5

Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman

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After years of struggling with anxiety and body image issues, Lara has finally turned her life around. She’s even somewhat popular and on the cheerleading squad. When a boy she doesn’t know, Christian, friends her on Facebook, Lara accepts. Their online friendship soon turns to romance — until Christian abruptly breaks it off and humiliates Lara online. Bree, Lara’s ex-best-friend, is happy Lara is getting put “back in her place”, but has no idea how devastated Lara really is over the incident. Lara’s online life suddenly spirals out of control, bringing real life consequences crashing down.

So, you can tell from my rating that this book wasn’t my favorite. BUT, that doesn’t mean you won’t like it. I personally felt that this book was super cheesy and did a great job of hammering its message home over and over and over. Don’t get me wrong; the message is very important! Online actions definitely have real life consequences, and it’s important that we realize those consequences. I’ve also had lots of kids tell me they LOVE this book. It’s got life drama, Facebook drama, romance drama — there’s a lot to like. I just didn’t. But you may want to give this book a try if you’re a fan of realistic fiction.

Rating: 2.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

 

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Craig Gilner is determined to follow what he believes is the best path in life: get into the best high school in the city, go to a great college, get a good job, and make money. However, when getting into said high school involves a tremendous amount of pressure and stress, Craig has trouble dealing with the obstacles. Unable to cope with his life’s new course, Craig develops depression, coupled with suicidal thoughts. One night, after a planned suicide attempt, Craig checks himself into a mental ward. There, among adult patients fighting to regain their own mental strength, Craig must re-evaluate his priorities and find a reason to choose life.

If you couldn’t tell from the summary, this one is a HEAVY read. Craig’s battle with depression and suicide can be tough to read at times, so this book wouldn’t be a good pick if you’re looking for a light, fun read. There’s also not a ton of action in the piece. It’s about Craig finding himself and dealing with his problems, so there’s more talking than anything else. However, if you love to read stories of personal struggles, this one may be a great choice. I also appreciated how Craig’s problems started when he was very young. Many adults feel like teenagers don’t have “real” problems, but Craig shows what I think is a very realistic picture of what a teenager’s life might look like.

Rating: 3/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Freaking Out by Polly Wells

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Freaking Out features thirteen young adult narrators telling the story of their battle with an invisible enemy: anxiety. With anxieties ranging from a fear of dogs to that of a war refugee, Wells’ compilation of stories illustrates one uniform theme: anxiety can be a crippling affliction that severely impacts the lives of young adults. For most of the narrators, the worst aspect of anxiety was the fact that so few people truly understand the disease. This meant the teens were ostracized and dismissed by many of their peers. With this book, hopefully the true nature of what it means to have anxiety can be understood by both sufferers and those around them.

I loved this book! I suffered greatly with anxiety as a teenager, and reading these stories reminded me a lot of my own struggles. It was helpful to read stories written by real teens about their battles with anxiety, even though I have mine well under control. Though this is not a “therapy” book, the narrators do talk about strategies and techniques they learned to help themselves get through difficult situations, so it may be a useful book for you if you are interested in that. Even if you don’t have anxiety, this book does a great job of illustrating how “out of control” it feels to have anxiety, and that it isn’t possible to just “get over it”. I highly recommend this book if you are suffering from anxiety, know someone suffering from anxiety, or are interested in mental health issues. It helps to know you are not alone.

Rating: 4/5

*Booklist Review, 2013

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.