It’s Sunday, and that means it’s time for another discussion post! I missed last week because of Fictional Fever week, but now I’m back and hear to talk to you guys about a topic that has been weighing on my mind for awhile now.
Mental health in YA fantasy (and sci-fi too, I suppose). Or rather, the lack of it.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. But Alex, it’s fantasy. They don’t have the tools to deal with mental health like we do in the present. Alright, that might be true in some cases, but I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse. They don’t have to label things like schizophrenia and depression and bipolar disorder upfront, but they shouldn’t leave it out entirely. Mental health is another facet of diversity, and one that affects everyone, no matter their race or gender or body type or age.
Who’s to say that a princess can’t be bipolar, without it being blamed on “crazy mood swings” Who’s to say that a magician can’t be depressed? Or that a shapeshifter can’t be racked with anxiety all the time?
Fantasy novels are often based in a fictitious world, but the characters and emotions in the story are often reflect things that happen in our daily lives. Why can’t this be the same with mental health? Why can’t I pick up a fantasy novel about a princess that is depressed, or wants to overcome her anxiety, or has bipolar disorder? The fact that I can’t do this makes me so sad, because even though I read fantasy to discover things decidedly not realistic, I like to see pieces of me reflected in stories. I will love a book 100% more if I find things I relate to personally, and you can sure as hell bet I’d love a fantasy book that depicted mental illness.
Just because it’s a fantasy novel, or a science fiction, or anything other than contemporary, doesn’t mean it can’t properly depict mental illness. Like I said before, it doesn’t have to come outright and label certain things–I understand that might be unbelievable, given the setting. But I find the novels that deal with these topics are the ones that I love the most.
Of course, who would I be without giving you some recommendations?
Throne of Glass is a high fantasy, but that doesn’t stop the main character from dealing with very, very realistic emotions that plague regular people. In the series, particularly the third book, Heir of Fire, Celaena goes through/deals with some pretty fucked up shit. In HoF, she feels lost and alone in the world. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like depression to me. The way she overcomes it and perseveres despite the fact that she seeming has nothing to live for gives me hope. It makes me believe that I can feel that way too; not so alone anymore.
These next two are sort of cheating, as they’re both set in the real world, but they both have fantasy/paranormal elements as the main points in the novel. Both The Raven Boys and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer deal with mental illness. Gansey from TRB deals with anxiety, and Maggie Stiefvater makes it feel so realistic that it could be you instead of Gansey in the novel. In Mara Dyer, both Mara and Noah deal with an abundance of issues, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Does it matter that these novels aren’t contemporary? Does it matter that they have fantasy and paranormal elements that you’ll find nowhere on this earth? No, it doesn’t. Because as long as there are humans, there will be mental illness. And as long as there are humans in YA, there should be real, accurate depictions of mental illness. To hell with genres.
There should be more mental illness in YA fantasy and science fiction. Period.
This is your daily reminder that you matter, you’re struggles are real, and you are not alone. It may be dark, but it’s when it’s darkest that the light shines best.