10 YA Books in Which the Main Character Suffers from Severe Anxiety

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Speaking up about struggles with mental illness is becoming evermore important in our society, especially given the large number of young people who are currently trying to cope with their own anxiety, depression, OCD or another emotional disorder. Mental illness is extremely isolating, but every once in a while a deliciously good book, TV show or movie comes along and you suddenly don’t feel so alone.

In the following young-adult novels, the author creates a beautiful narrative that people with anxiety will be able to see themselves in and will those who want to understand the disorder better with an even deeper knowledge of what daily life is like for someone trying to manage the disorder.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie's childhood trauma has never really gone away. He's haunted by the problems of his past and it manifests in social anxiety (perhaps what Stephen means when he says 'Wallflower') as well as daily dull ache deep inside. Some of the words in this book will seriously feel like they came straight out of your diary.

While the novel gives readers a deeper understanding of Charlie and his mental illness, the movie is NEARLY just as good (and we can't complain about Logan Lerman's star role either)!

Photo: Pocket Books

Looking for Alaska by John Green

You must seriously be living under a rock if you haven't heard about John Green's Looking for Alaska. But what's interesting is that it's not usually touted as a book about the difficulties of living with anxiety. While Miles' anxiety disorder may be undiagnosed, he exhibits the symptoms of it and depression and it's seriously relatable for anyone who has ever struggled in a similar way.

Photo: Penguin Young Readers Group

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Jennifer's characters Theodore Finch and Violet Markey are on opposite ends of the social ladder but have one huge thing in common: they both struggle with anxiety and depression. Despite her popularity, the girl feels alienated by her peers after the death of her sister. The boy, on the other hand, is a social outcast who thinks about ending it all.

While All the Bright Places may not be the most uplifting book you'll pick up this year, it offers a deep and realistic look into the lives of two teenagers trying to cope with their mental illnesses.

Photo: Alfred A. Knopf

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

A lot of teen readers will be able to relate to Rainbow's 2014 YA novel, Fangirl. Not only is the main character completely obsessed with a fictional book character named Simon Snow (and let's face it, we've all been there), but what Cath is really doing is using fanfiction to escape from her social anxiety. Her disorder causes panic attacks when she thinks about going off to college, and being emotionally abandoned by her twin sister isn't making matters any better.

In 2015, a spin-off novel called Carry On was published and it actually follows the fictional characters that Cath has become obsessed with!

Photo: St. Martin's Press

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

This YA novel is on the Zoella book club list — which makes sense considering that Zo also has spoken up about her experiences with anxiety. Our protagonist's mental illness is controlling Audrey's whole life. Audrey is completely overwhelmed with her mounting anxieties and nothing can change that — well, that's what Audrey believes until she meets a guy named Linus who she feels finally understands her problems.

Photo: Random House Children's Books

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

We don't only love this book because it's working to break down the stigma of mental illness, but also because it puts LGBTQ+ issues at the forefront. The main character Soloman suffers from severe agoraphobia (a fear of going outside) and had a particularly traumatizing panic attack in 7th grade that still haunts him. It seems like Soloman's whole identity is a struggle but with the author's creative and thoughtful writing, there's still hope yet for this 16-year-old trying to find his place in the world.

Photo: Penguin Young Readers Group

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

While reading a short description of this book might make you think it's a shallow concept, The Boyfriend List delves in deep when it comes to 15-year-old Ruby's downward spiral. She begins seeing a therapist after suffering from panic attacks and lives in a constant state of dread. She also has a lot of guy problems. That might sound cliche, but what E. Lockhart does with this book is looks at the way that social and societal pressures can lead to a young person's suffering, particularly among females living under the patriarchy.

Go into the novel with an open mind, and it'll make you think about why anxiety is so common among young women these days.

Photo: Ember

Don't Touch Rachel M. Wilson

In Don't Touch, the main character, Caddie, struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and extreme anxiety, and the two working together have got Caddie convinced that if she physically touches anyone else, her life will fall into shambles.

When she joins the cast for the school's production of Hamlet, she'll have to relinquish some control over her life which will either be incredibly freeing... or wildly destructive. But that's the choice she must make.

Photo: HarperCollins Publishers

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti

"I am not my illness. 'Girl with Anxiety,' 'Trauma of the Week' — no. I hate stuff like that. Everyone, everyone has their issue. But the one thing my illness did make me realize is how necessary it is to ignore the dangers of living in order to live. And how much trouble you can get into if you can't," Deb describes through her character, Jade.

If you've ever dealt with anxiety than you know how real this quote is. For those of you who have never experienced the mental illness personally, Jade's anxiety is handled with care and sensitivity and can help you understand your anxious friends on a new level.

Photo: Simon Pulse

We're All Mad Here by Leigh Raines

This spin on Alice in Wonderland equates mental illness and the 'Rabbit Hole.' The harder Jade tries to seem 'normal' by society's standards, the more her anxiety and depression tugs at her, trying to bring her down.

We're All Mad Here explores the way that Jade's life's privileges make people believe that her mental illness couldn't be real — and helps to dismantle that common belief.

Photo: Frenchpress Bookworks

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