Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 – Reading Recommendations

File_001 (7)Since it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought it would be appropriate to recommend a few books which I think address mental health very well. They’re not all books which are centered around mental health, and they don’t all focus on it greatly, but whether it’s an inspiring paragraph or the whole book, it’s here for a reason.

First, to represent agoraphobia and OCD, it has to be Under Rose-Tainted Skies (Louise Gornall). This book is beautiful, honest, moving and I felt like I related to it a lot more than some other books focusing on the same things. Norah is amazing, strong and very similar to me so that was an immediate click for me. You can read my full review (including the blurb) here: Review.

Also representing OCD, it’s Am I Normal Yet? (Holly Bourne) which is a beautiful story following the life of Evie who suffers from strong OCD and shows her struggles and attempts to be ‘normal’. This so well portrays the mindset of someone who thinks they’re weird and wants to fit in, and I found it very easy to relate to. It’s honest and is one of my favourite reads because of this. You can read my full review (including the blurb) here: Review.

I am fully aware that being transgender isn’t a mental disorder or illness, so please don’t shoot me, but I’m putting If I Was Your Girl (Meredith Russo) in here too. This is because the main character is struggling with her identity and through the bullying and misunderstandings, there are points where the narration displays some quite hurtful thoughts about herself. Because of the bullying in the story, she isn’t thinking right and could be experiencing some variation of depression or anxiety. It’s a very touching, very important story that everyone should read and I do think that it belongs here since it does portray some very negative, self-deprecating thoughts that wouldn’t be there otherwise (without the bullying/misunderstandings) as she’s been essentially taught to think this way. You can read my full review (including the blurb) here: Review.

Representing eating disorders/a distorted body image is Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill) and it’s the first book I ever decided to review because of how good it is. I think it’s so realistic in a ‘this would never happen’ kind of way. I can see how the patriarchal control in the story replicates the same manipulation in the real world and it’s done so well that I think everyone should have to read this even if it’s just to inspire you to tell the world to f off. You can read my full review (including the blurb) here: Review.

As representation for anxiety, I’ve put in the entire Girl Online series (Zoe Sugg) because I think (at least for me), it’s very accurate and portrays that inner monologue well. I enjoy the story as well as the issues inside it, as there’s no love triangle and the romantic interest isn’t magically a cure for her mental health problems. It’s realistic, and honestly shows the stages of a panic attack, thoughts caused by anxiety and the missed opportunities it can cause. Just because it’s ghost-written for a vlogger doesn’t make it bad. You can read my full review (including the blurb) of the first book here: Review

This last book is a slight stretch since it isn’t entirely focused on mental health, however I do think that it would help someone going through the same situation. It’s No Virgin (Anne Cassidy) which is about a rape. It’s not explicitly mentioned that the main character is experiencing any mental health issues, however I think that through the narrative, it could be assumed that she’s having a lot of negative thoughts, self-blame and guilt which could so easily become depression or anxiety (among other things). PTSD is a common problem which comes after rape, and it could be argued that that is present in this book. I think it depends how you interpret it and how hard-hitting the subject is for you, but I definitely think that this book should be on this list. You can read my full review (including the blurb) here: Review.

Review: The State of Grace (Rachael Lucas)

file_000Title: The State of Grace

Author: Rachael Lucas

Publisher: Macmillan (mykindabook)

Release: 6th April 2017

Genre: Contemporary, mental health (Asperger’s)

Which animal is similar to this book? Okay this one’s a little bit of a stretch but just go with it please…For me, I would personally say this is a greyhound because for anyone who knows greyhounds, they are one of the breeds people are likely to say they can ‘relate to’ because they’re full of those traits which people often joke about or see in themselves. Greyhounds like to sleep a lot, enjoy food and like attention so there are quite a few greyhound owners who will say they’re like their dog. In the same way, anyone with Asperger’s or autism will really feel like this book ‘gets’ them, just as a greyhound ‘gets’ me, and since I do have Asperger’s, I feel like that about it. I can relate a lot to Grace and to the emotions she experiences, so this book is my greyhound. Greyhounds are also a very fast animal and so compare to this book in that the story is quite fast-paced. Also, greyhounds make exceptional therapy dogs and I feel like this book is kind of a ‘comfort’ book in the same way a greyhound would comfort someone who was having a bad day. I will be reading this on bad days or days I want to feel connected to someone similar to me, so I will be treating this book as kind of a go-to, comfort-read and I would advise anyone similar to me to do the same.

The blurb says: Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules for life and mine got lost. Grace has Asperger’s and her own way of looking at the world. She’s got a horse and a best friend who understand her, and that’s pretty much all she needs. But when Grace kisses Gabe and things start to change at home, the world doesn’t make much sense to her any more. Suddenly everything threatens to fall apart, and it’s up to Grace to fix it on her own. Whip-smart, hilarious and unapologetically honest, The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas is a heart-warming story of one girl trying to work out where she fits in, and whether she even wants to.

I want all my friends to read this. I want to give this to anyone who looks at me like I’m stupid/rude, to anyone who thinks I’m a freak, to anyone and everyone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to live with Asperger’s. I feel like this is definitely one of the most important books of 2017 and I want everyone to know. The way it’s written just makes me realise how not-alone I am and I want to know Grace in reality so badly because I know we are one and the same (except for the part where she loves horses and I have quite a substantial fear of horses because they’re big and could probably kill me with their eyes).

Grace is the best character; she speaks so honestly and bluntly (in her head of course) so that even if you don’t have Asperger’s, the story will still have a good impact on you. I love the way all the characters are so distinctive and separate and I also love that each has their own sub-plot which all make sense at the end. I also love that since we’re seeing everything through Grace’s eyes, everything seems negative and all her worries affect the way the reader will see the story; I think that’s so clever and I wish I could write like that.
The story is fast-paced and at the start, everything is happening quite quickly but by the end, you will be tense, anxious and concerned for Grace as everything speeds along to a nice, relaxing, all-wrapped-up ending. I love that the end of the book actually did wrap up every mini-plot and everything was answered, because I would’ve been heartbroken if anything had been missed out. I also love the two Taylor Swift references, because I am a Swiftie at heart and I love to see references to the old, country, curly-haired Taylor Swift. I also really appreciated the German Shepherd having a good representation; that line about the perception she’s aggressive made me so happy because breed stigmas/representation is where my little animal-student heart lies…

I love that it describes that feeling of being so emotionally drained and physically tired after socialising with people because I feel like that’s an important aspect that people don’t really seem to understand unless they experience it themselves. I also love that it featured an autistic main character who has *shock* a romantic relationship. That’s often not seen as possible since autistic people supposedly have no emotions, don’t want to touch anyone or just aren’t interested in relationships. In this book, Grace is completely ‘normal’ and is a ‘normal’ teenager, just with a mental problem which affects her social skills and thinking, not her desire to date or have friendships. I also love that she’s that ‘normal’ in that she’s not a train enthusiast, can’t do complicated maths in her head and isn’t obsessed with space like a lot of autistic characters seem to be. She’s just an animal-lover who likes Doctor Who and there are quite a few of those who aren’t autistic.

This was honestly such a good book, I can’t say enough good things about it. I will be buying a finished copy, I will be lending it to anyone I can convince to read it and I will be praising it for months to come. This is truly an important read for anyone who has Asperger’s, knows someone who has Asperger’s or simply wants to see what it’s like. I genuinely feel books like this (as well as Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise 20160804_163103Gornall and Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne) should be taught in schools or at least strongly promoted so that they can explain these mental health issues to people who possibly don’t understand it, or who don’t want to feel like a ‘weirdo’ or like they’re alone in the world.

I kind of want a few lines of this tattooed to be honest, and I would recommend this to anyone at all; it’s such a good book and I really hope people read it and feel as connected to it as I do. So, obviously, this gets 10 out of 10 paw prints from me!

Review: All Of The Above (Juno Dawson)

file_000-19Title: All Of The Above

Author: Juno Dawson

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Release: September 2015

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQ+, mental health.

Which animal is similar to this book? This will be difficult to explain so just bear with me… I would compare this book to a milksnake since they’re colourful and have a lot going on within their bodies, without being ridiculously ‘out there’. They have a purpose to being so colourful (it warns off predators, not that that’s relevant to this), in the same way that this book covers a whole multitude of issues (and I’ve seen some reviews be negative about this) which I personally think are necessary and important to the story. Both the snake and the plot pull off their bright colours well, but for me, I respect snakes and I understand the appeal, however that doesn’t necessarily mean I want them draped around my neck. To translate, I understand the need for a book like this, and I see its good points, but I feel this book isn’t fully for me.

The blurb says: This is a funny and moving love story about friends, first loves and self-discovery by Queen of Teen 2014. When sixteen-year-old Toria Grand arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who’s the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the ‘alternative’ kids take Toria under their wing. And that’s when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band – and it’s instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there’s Polly…love and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles.

I can say so many good things about this story (and trust me, I will) but I think it’ll be best to get the negative aspect out of the way first. Without spoiling much, I really feel like the asexual character was poorly misrepresented. I resent the idea that to be asexual, you have to have some kind of dislike in your body and that’s the message put across here. I like that there was an asexual character, and aside from that, I really liked that they were shown to be ‘normal’. However, I didn’t like the self-conscious link that was made there, so maybe if you wish to read a book with an asexual character, maybe try another.

However, if you’re looking for a realistic, jam-packed book filled with fun, drama and friendship, then look no further. All Of The Above manages to pack in so many typically ‘teen’ issues into just 326 pages. There’s emotional moments that make you want to cry, times you’ll laugh and instances you’ll wish were happening to you in real life. In real life, there’s often a lot going on at once, so it makes sense for so much to happen at once for the characters in the story. I feel it tackles sex in YA well too, not over-describing, but presenting it realistically in a way I think a lot of teen girls would be able to relate to.

I love the way all the characters have such hugely distinctive voices and personalities, with Polly so outgoing and Alice so not, Beasley is shy and Daisy is friendly. I lo20160802_160912ve that throughout the whole story, despite the many crossed paths and plot lines, the voices remain distinct and strong.

Seriously so much happens in this story that I feel like anything I say is a spoiler…So if you like fast-paced, realistic stories with some good diversity (especially in terms of LGBT+), then give this a go! 8 out of 10 paw prints from me!

Review: A Quiet Kind Of Thunder (Sara Barnard)

file_000-3Title: A Quiet Kind Of Thunder

Author: Sara Barnard

Publisher: Macmillan Books

Release: January 2017!

Genre: Contemporary, mental health, disabilities

Which animal is similar to this book? An owl is known to be wise, beautiful and elegant; all qualities shared with this book. The book is witty and intelligent and addresses everything in a mature and delicate but brutally honest way. The blossoming friendship and subsequent romance is beautiful and real and the way in which the story plays out is very elegant and not rushed at all. Owls are also considered funny since they have problems flying in the rain and they also look quite funny bobbing their head around too. This book is mainly serious but there are aspects of humor within the dialogue, including a lot of sarcasm and some awkward miscommunication.

The blurb says: Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say. Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen. Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder. Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

The story follows Steffi and Rhys, each dealing with their own problems (although it’s told from Steffi’s perspective) and how they can actually help each other to deal with them. It’s a beautiful story of how love and compassion can influence the recovery of someone suffering with mental health issues. Sara Barnard writes it exactly how it is; friendship or romance (in some cases) can be really useful with mental health issues because it gives the sufferer someone to rely on as well as someone to try hard to recover for.

The characters are realistic and easy to relate to since they’re very serious but also very sarcastic and funny and actually I was reading it and realising I’m very similar to Steffi. She suffers with anxiety a lot worse than mine since she has selective mutism, but she wants to work with animals and is looking at training. Her dog also gives her confidence and she finds it a lot easier to talk about things that she’s passionate about (eg: animals) which is something I can definitely relate to. The way it’s written is so accurate and honest and there’s no “glamorising” it.

It’s also very emotional, I found myself actually crying at some points because I understood what the characters were going through and I knew how hard it would be for them. There are aspects of family issues, friendship and romance as well as the obvious mental health/physical health issues but everything links very well and it was an absolute pleasure to read. It took me under five hours to read and I stayed up very late to finish it (which doesn’t happen often!). It’s a real beauty of a book and I feel like more people should read it just so they can understand things like anxiety/selective mutism/d20160804_163103eafness and the impacts they can have on someone’s life, because it isn’t as simple as they can’t go to parties, or they can’t hear. There’s a lot more to it and I think this book should be taught in schools or at least promoted in school libraries because reading this could maybe make someone feel less alone in their own struggles.

Overall, I loved it, so 10 out of 10 paw prints! I would love to read more about Steffi and Rhys because I feel somehow connected to them now, and I will definitely be buying the finished copy when it’s released!

Review: Am I Normal Yet? (Holly Bourne)

20161011_141904Title: Am I Normal Yet?

Author: Holly Bourne

Publisher: Usborne

Release: Out now!

Genre: Contemporary, mental health

Which animal is similar to this book? This book, to me, resembles a generic pig. I realise how harsh this sounds, but hear me out! When someone says the word ‘pig’, most people will immediately think of a traditional pot-bellied pig on a farm in a muddy field. These pigs are messy, love to forage and are obviously only kept for the purpose of meat. Other people will think of the less common (but much more common among celebrities!) teacup pig. These are miniature versions of the standard ‘pig’ and are arguably adorable (yes they fit in a teacup when young, and fit in a mixing bowl when adult!). ‘Pigs’ are versatile; even the pot-bellied pig can be used for meat or pig racing! They’re different and all the different breeds have different characteristics, despite being wildly similar. Am I Normal Yet? is a story about a girl with OCD, yet it still covers topics such as feminism, friendship, family issues, boy problems and bullying. It’s very versatile as pigs are and although the main plot is about mental health, the other storylines are also very strong within that.

The blurb says: Normal at 16 = College, Friends who won’t dump you, Parties? Fun? A boyfriend? All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there’s only one thing left to tick off her list… But relationships can mess with anyone’s head – something Evie’s new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won’t tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?

Okay, this book is amazing. Having OCD myself, reading books which claim to talk about it is always tense and I’m waiting for the cliches or the misinterpretations which come from people who don’t have it themselves. However, this book is so accurate. It’s so obvious from just reading it that Holly Bourne did a lot of research to get this 100%. From the feelings, symptoms, needs even to the ways a therapist would help and the diaries/worksheets they would give someone to help them; it’s all fully accurate.

In that sense, it’s very informative for anyone with a friend who is suffering from OCD but doesn’t quite understand it, but it also gives a lot of information about feminism. There are terms used (like ‘benevolent sexism’) which aren’t commonly used in conversation but are so important and should be talked about more. I just loved it, and when Lottie explains those terms to the other two, I was learning alongside them and I feel like that’s something other girls should be able to experience too.

The characters are lovely and I wish I knew them all in real life because that would just be a dream come true! I also read the acknowledgments and I love that the first dating story in the book is based on a date the author actually went on (I also love that she didn’t change his name and isn’t sorry for it!) because when I was reading that, it seemed like a thing which could happen, but almost seemed too impossible to happen in a normal scenario, as opposed to celebrity lives.

I also love that the story is so funny and witty; despite the seriousness of OCD and the problems Evie is facing, there’s often dry or witty humor as well which makes the plot more light-hearted. Saying that, it did make me emotional and I really did feel sorry for Evie, watching her put herself in situations I know I would hate, and yet I unde20160804_163103rstood why she was doing it, and somehow that made it worse.

I know I’m late to the Spinster Club, but I won’t be leaving any time soon! I can’t wait to read the other books (I already bought them because I knew I’d love them!), but I do think Evie will be my favourite overall… We shall see! I definitely give Am I Normal Yet? a very strong 10 out of 10 paw prints! Everyone should read it!

Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies (Louise Gornall)

20160823_161617Title: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Author: Louise Gornall

Publisher: Chicken House

Release: Out now!

Genre: Contemporary, mental health

Which animal is similar to this book? This book is a Scarlet Macaw Parrot in a land of African Grey Parrots. It stands out immensely against all the other books tackling mental health in a way which is meant to be seen as useful or easy to relate to, when there are a lot which will only romanticise it and make it seem appealing. This book shines in comparison to those and just radiates greatness, as do scarlet macaws since they are often perceived as snooty and seem to know they’re the prettiest parrots. However, they’re also one of the most sensitive species of parrots and will often pluck their own feathers (a sign of stress/worry) at just the slightest change in environment. This book resembles that in the way the main character, Norah, is so unstable and easily stressed.

The blurb says: I’m Norah and my life happens within the walls of my house, where I live with my mom, and this evil overlord called Agoraphobia. Everything’s under control. It’s not rosy – I’m not going to win any prizes for Most Exciting Life or anything, but at least I’m safe from the outside world, right? Wrong. This new boy, Luke, just moved in next door, and suddenly staying safe isn’t enough. If I don’t take risks, how will I ever get out – or let anyone in?

I don’t even know where to start reviewing this, I’m sure it’s all been said… This book made me see my own problems in a new way, which are small compared to Norah’s struggles since I don’t have agoraphobia, but it gave me new ideas of coping methods, as well as the promise that there are ways to handle it and eventually recover from it. It shows mental illness in a way which highlights every single negative, even the not so glamorous ones, which can often be overlooked in the media where they’ll show someone with OCD to have to fold paper perfectly in a straight line and that’s it. OCD is more than that and it’s difficult for people who don’t have it to fully understand it and they will often treat it as something that can just be ignored or that you can just ‘get over it’. I love that this book shows Norah’s ways of coping and how they often don’t work, and it shows the different ways her OCD and agoraphobia affect her in her life.

The characters are so likeable, especially Norah; I wish I could be her best friend or sister to be honest! I felt sympathy for her and also felt like if she was real, I would connect with her so well because we have so much in common and there aren’t many book characters I can connect to like that.

This is the kind of book I feel to be truly important and I would suggest that anyone with a mental illness (or anyone who knows someone with one) should read this. I genuinely feel that this book, and others like it, should be on future reading lists for GCSE’s and A Levels because it’s so informative, well-written and overall a good story. Or it should at least be suggested to all people of that age since a lot of people suffering with mental illness will develop it at this age and won’t know how to handle it. A book like this, making them feel more normal, teaching them ways to cope and giving them a better way to understand/explain what they’re feeling would be fantastically useful to them. I know that at that age, when my issues first developed, I felt like a freak but if I’d read a book like this, it probably would’ve changed the way I saw myself and the way I handle20160804_163103d it.

Obviously, I thought this book was amazing, so it gets a solid 10 out of 10 paw prints and I recommend that everyone read this, especially if you suffer from some kind of mental illness because it honestly will help, despite not being a ‘self-help book’.