Discussion: Mental Health in YA Fantasy

mental-health-in-fantasy

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.

Do you think there should be a better representation of mental illness in fantasy and science fiction? Do you have recommendations of books that fit this description? Let me know in the comments!

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26 thoughts on “Discussion: Mental Health in YA Fantasy

  1. Lila says:

    AMEN! I’d *love* to see more mental illness in fantasy, i think it’s really important! I think it’s important that our heroes and heroines aren’t perfect and are just like us. Often when hard things, that are, in reality seriously damaging and scarring, happen in sci fi and fantasy they’re glossed over as “just another event.” No! People have reactions! Having no mental illnesses in sci fi and fantasy i feel like perpetuates the idea that you can’t be brave or smart or etc and be mentally ill at the same time, when in reality, mentally ill people are some of the bravest around!

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    • Alex @ Fiery Reads says:

      You have such an amazing point!! I definitely think it perpetuates that idea, and I think that happens in contemporary too sometimes. I think we should remember that people aren’t their mental illness–their mental illness is just part of them, and that part makes them no more or less than anyone else. That’s why I think it should be apart of fantasy, too, because it’s not exclusive to only contemporary.

      Thank you for commenting! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mara @ Mara Was Here says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a fantasy/sci-fi book with characters that have mental illnesses. Even so, reading those kinds of books really is a bit interesting. The books you’ve mentioned have been on my TBR for months, but since you’ve mentioned them to cover such topics, then maybe I’ll find time to read them sometime soon. 🙂

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  3. Bhramori says:

    This is a very good topic, Alex! I haven’t thought about this before, but now that you mention it, I can clearly notice the lack of mental illness and other similar topics in YA fantasy. And now that you’ve put the idea in my head, I’d totally love to see a book like that — I already know I’ll love it! 😀

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    • Alex @ Fiery Reads says:

      Thank you! 🙂 If you ever hear of such a book other than the ones I’ve mentioned, please let me know! I’d love to read it 🙂 On twitter, Jodi Meadows said she had a book coming out that is a fantasy and deals with mental illness, if you want to look out for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Claudia Victoria says:

    THIS POST.

    THIS POST IS EVERYTHING.

    I’m totally with you that outright labeling stuff in fantasy might not fit with the setting (especially if it’s an alternate world that doesn’t share our culture and customs), but this doesn’t act an excuse from it’s exclusion. Mental illness is something real and is EVERYWHERE, fantasy or not. A character can act depressed and the people will understand that they are depressed, even if the author doesn’t outright label it. That’s one reason why I love The Raven Boys, because even though Maggie Stiefvater (at least, from what I’ve remembered) never outright said that Gansey has anxiety, you can just tell. It’s woven into the way he acts and what he thinks, and you just KNOW. It’s such a smart way to write because it really does good to the whole “show, don’t tell” bit of advice. And who says we can’t have it like this in fantasy?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex @ Fiery Reads says:

      Ahhh I’m so glad you like it, Claudia!!! ❤

      Exactly!! The Raven Boys is such an amazing example, and Maggie does such a glorious job of doing the whole "show, don't tell" thing. I'm not looking for characters in fantasy to outright be labeled with their illness, but I want to see them act a certain way and have a reader say, "oh, yeah, that's what depression would look like in real life." Jodi Meadows responded to me on twitter saying that she's writing/written a fantasy with mental illness and I'm SO exciting about it!

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  5. Younicorn Reads says:

    Where do you get such amazing ideas?! I LOVED this post, I totally loved it.
    I totally agree with you: Caelena goes through so much in HoF and it’s a perfect example for this post. I haven’t read The Umbecoming of Mara Dyer and The Raven Boys though *hides in a corner*. I think we need diversity in general in YA fantasy (or it’s just me who haven’t read enough YA fantasy books)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alex @ Fiery Reads says:

      Honestly? I have no idea! Typically they come to me at random. Like, I thought of this topic when I was dealing with a bad bout of depression, and then I thought about fantasy (sine that’s practically all I read) and there was my idea! When I was thinking about my female villains post, I was thinking of all my favorite villains, but I couldn’t think of any females, hence what prompted me to post that discussion.

      MAHA, YOU MUST READ THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER AND THE RAVEN BOYS!!! They are both books that mean so much to me. Some people’s childhoods are Harry Potter, but mine are The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, The Raven Boys, Throne of Glass, Twilight and Percy Jackson (hahah this is such a weird mix but it’s true!)

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      • Maha Haggouch says:

        Well, this post is GENIUS. I haven’t read Percy Jackson too *hides in corner again*. But I’m planning to, plus books are so expensive where I live… (btw it’s just me I just changed my name in the Google settings)

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  6. lostwithinwordsx says:

    Alex, this was such an amazing topic to think about! I have never realized it before but there really isn’t enough representation of mental illness in YA fantasy or science fiction. I would definitely love to see more diversity in those characters even if the author doesn’t downright label them as having a certain mental illness. People should be aware that having a mental illness is something that affects most people at some point in their lives, and that they are not alone in the battle 🙂

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    • Alex @ Fiery Reads says:

      Thank you! It came to me out of the blue, really, but as soon as I thought about it I knew I had to write a discussion post!

      I agree, I think all characters should be built upon realistic characteristics, whether they are in a contemporary or a fantasy novel. Here’s to hoping we’ll see more diversity in the near future 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Zoe says:

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THIS POST. I completely agree 110%. The mental illness I remember reading about has all been in contemporary books. There’s no reason why mental illness can’t be in other genres too. Thanks for sharing this and, as always, fabulous discussion! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. danielaark says:

    wow… this is a good one. It took me about a minute to start writing this comment. just to say… I don’t know. [pathetic I know lol] I think fantasy is more plot, world-building driven. Not so say there is not great character development in fantasy and mental illness will definitely make a great layer and make the character very real but not sure… it feels TOO real to me, too not fantasy. I’m not sure I’m making sense 🙂

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  9. Sarah Cone says:

    Have I ever told you that you blow my mind? Because you do, you know. While your passion for books and reading is obvious, I’m so glad I follow your blog so I could see just how much you truly love books, which is shown not only in how you review or recommend them, but also with how you take time to evaluate what’s wrong and or what’s needed to improve them. You are so wise, especially at your young age. Are you sure you’re not a witch or something? 😉
    Anyway, I agree with you, basically on absolutely everything you wrote in this post. There aren’t enough characters that struggle with mental health issues in any genre but yes, especially in fantasy & sci-fi. And whether you’re a kid,teen,YA or Adult, everyone should be able to feel that they are worthy, represented, accepted& acknowledged in literature. In my youth (a long time ago in a galaxy far far away) I also dealt with depression that has, throughout adulthood, changed into anxiety. A TBI from a car accident many years ago also left me with PTSD& OCD and I can say in all honesty and no shame that at any point in my life, I would have greatly appreciated reading a story that focused on someone like me.I love how more and more books are becoming more diverse in their storylines & characters but am disappointed that the subject of mental health has been, for the most part,left in the dust. I don’t even have one book to give an example but I’m so glad that you do. Once again, thank you for such a great & important post!

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  10. Nova @ Out of Time says:

    I agree with this so much!

    When you think about it even further, it’s like fantasy includes dragons and magic – why is it hard to believe that these novels have characters with mental illness? I agree with this post entirely. We need warriors with anxiety or even PTSD. WHY DO LIKE NO CHARACTERS WHO EXPERIENCE WAR HAVE PTSD? all i can think of is katniss and that isn’t even fantasy [i guess it sort of counts, though because sci fi/dystopian]

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  11. Jade @ Bedtime Bookworm says:

    After reading this post, two books that come to mind include Angelfall, which is post-apocalyptic and has a character with schizophrenia, and The Monstrumologist, which is like a historical paranormal/urban fantasy with a character who has bipolar. I can’t think of a single true high fantasy I’ve read that really has mental illness though. We definitely need more of it! Great discussion 🙂

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  12. Anissa @ She Reads Too Much says:

    Amazing point! I see some people have already mentioned Angelfall, that was a great example (and I series I truly loved!). I think mental illness and things like racism are just easier to tackle in fantasy novels, because even though the issues are address and the same issues that we deal with, it somehow makes it easier to bring about. I’m not sure why. I don’t read that many contemporary novels, but Fallen Crest High deals with quite a lot of emotional abuse. I like it when books address these kind of things. I feel like I’m talking in circles haha. Anyways, great post as always Alex – you know I love your discussion posts! 😀

    Like

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