Posted in Teaching and Learning

5 YA novels that examine mental health

forever young

This post started partly because I have just finished John Green’s new novel, Turtles all the way down and partly because at a meeting at school, our Principal reminded us that mental health and wellness must be a growing priority in our care for students and ourselves.

The mental health of young Australians is something we all need to be aware of.  Beyond Blue informs us that:

  • Around one in 35 young Australians aged 4-17 experience a depressive disorder. 
  • One in seven young Australians experience a mental health condition.
  • One in fourteen young Australians (6.9%) aged 4-17 experienced an anxiety disorder in 2015. This is equivalent to approximately 278,000 young people.

The need for understanding and awareness around mental health issues is of prime importance to all those who work with young people in our country.

Fiction books are one avenue that young people can attain an insight into the world of others or find reflections of their own experiences.  In particular, contemporary realistic fiction is a genre that provides an avenue for teens to explore topics that are modern and relevant to their lives.  The diversity of the topics and the points-of-view they present provide opportunities for young people to explore their identity, understand their society and culture and build empathy for others.  Mental health is one such topic explored in this genre.

Here are five books that explore issues pertaining to mental health.

Turtles all the way down by John Green

I have to premise this by saying that I am a huge John Green fan.  Not only do I believe he is an excellent author of YA fiction, I also love the vlog channel he works on with his brother, Hank, and his charity work.

For information about the plot of the novel and for in-depth reviews visit the entries on Goodreads.

My take on his latest novel Turtles all the way down is that it is disguised as a mystery novel but is essentially an exploration of what it is can be like living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  The main character, Aza Holmes, suffers from the torment of thought spirals that on a bad day will dominate her every waking moment.  The obsessive thoughts impact both her life and her relationships. The novel dispels generalizations and romanticized notions of OCD and the reader is left with no uncertainty about the pain caused by Aza’s invasive and repetitive thoughts.

AND John Green knows what he is talking about.  He has been open and honest about his own OCD.  He has been open about this in social media and in a vlog entry in July of this year, the author discusses his own life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how this provided inspiration for the novel.

All the bright places by Jennifer Niven

This book is about Violet and Finch.  Violet is living in the aftermath of a recent tragedy and Finch is living with Bipolar Disorder.  The two meet on the top of a bell tower when both are contemplating suicide.  Although it is unclear about who saves who, they both survive.  They are then thrown together again to complete a school project and a friendship begins to grow.

This book gives the reader a very real insight into what it is like to live with Bipolar Disorder – from being in the grip of mania to the depths of depression.  It seeks compassion, not judgment and highlights just how fragile mental health problems can make a person.

The movie adaptation of All the bright places starring Elle Fanning is scheduled for release in 2018.

Beautiful Monster by Kate McCaffrey

Beautiful monster tells the story of Tessa.  After a grief event in her family, Tessa starts to rely on her friend Ned.  Ned is her support and ally and encourages her to strive for perfection in all things – grades, sport, dutiful daughter and weight. The problem is, Ned is not a friend but an eating disorder.  After treatment, Tessa knows that he is not real but her battle to ignore him is enormous.

In this novel, author Kate McCaffrey explores the effects eating disorders can have.  She portrays the consequences of such illnesses and the reader understands how disastrous these can be for the person suffering and for their family and friends.

Beautiful Mess by Claire Christian

Beautiful mess takes two broken characters and explores how they deal with some hefty issues including mental health, depression, suicide, grief, first sexual experiences, and bullying. These characters are 15-year-old Ava and 17-year-old Gideon.

Importantly, the book leaves the reader with a way forward, highlighting the importance of therapy to recovery.  The proposition made is that with therapy, a ‘broken mess’ can become a thing of beauty.

The impossible knife of memory by Laurie Hales Anderson

Many young people are trying to live in homes where a family member is afflicted with mental health issues.  The impossible knife of memory tells the story of Hayley Kincain who has led anything but an ordinary childhood. At the point where the novel begins, Hayley is entering her senior years in high school. Prior to this, she has been traveling the roads with her father in his truck, living an unconventional life while her Dad tries to escape the memories and post-traumatic stress that haunt him as a returned soldier.

In her return to a ‘normal life’, Hayley makes friends with Gracie and then meets Finn. Both have the potential to be good for her if Hayley would let them in. Hayley is, however, afraid of this – if others see what is really going on with her Dad, his mental health, inability to keep a job, use of drugs to anaesthetise his pain, his neglect of Hayley’s needs and his violent episodes, then her new, ‘normal life’ might be threatened.

As things spiral out of control in Hayley’s life, it becomes impossible to put this book down so worried are you for both Hayley and her father.

Contact:  If you think you need help with a mental health issue you can contact Beyond Blue or Kids Help Line.

Posted in Books & Reading, literacy, Reading, Teaching and Learning

Indigenous Literacy Day 2017, Brisbane Writer’s Festival

My Brisbane Writer’s Festival experience began today with the opportunity to attend the Indigenous Literacy Day:  Book Launch and Book Swap presented by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation in the beautiful Angel’s Palace.  This building is designed to be an immersive experience and the artwork on the exterior of this tent was designed by artist Gordon Hookey.


The main focus of the event was to launch the book Two ways strong written by indigenous students from Concordia Lutheran College. The book tells the story of what it is like for a young person from a remote community to have to leave home to attend boarding school.


The launch was officiated by the Foundation’s patron, Hon Quentin Bryce.  Her words were both touching and inspirational.  She began by thanking the indigenous women who have taught her throughout her life what it is to be an Elder.

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 5.06.53 pm

Quentin Bryce then went on to discuss how there is something irresistible about a story and that a world without stories is unimaginable.  Yet, in many homes, there are very few, if any, books.  The work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) is to redress this imbalance.  By the end of 2017, sixteen thousand books will have been delivered to indigenous communities by the Foundation.  Importantly, many of these stories have been written by indigenous authors and celebrate indigenous ways of life, culture, languages, and traditions.  Suzy Wilson, the founder of the ILF, went on to say that these books provide opportunities to reading and literacy and this opens doors to possibilities, making children strong.

Following the formalities, guests at the event were invited to participate in a book swap by donating a favourite book and taking a book from the collection for the cost of a gold coin.

Simultaneous Indigenous Literacy Day events were being held at the Sydney Opera House, Foundation Square in Melbourne and the State Library of Western Australia in Perth.

Attending this event on a beautiful Brisbane spring day was a privilege and a wonderful way to begin the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

One more thing….Something to keep an eye out for is the two board books for babies & toddlers that are being published by the ILF to be released in December.




Posted in Books & Reading, Library collections, Middle School Reads, Read Like a Girl, Teaching and Learning, YA Literature

5 inspirational books for girls in Middle School

I am often asked to recommend “must read” books for girls of certain ages. Common questions include: “Can you provide a list of books all Middle School students should read?” and “What are the books all students should read before the finish high school?”

Such questions always bother me because reading tastes are so individual and varied that different students will connect with different books. Research tells us that students will read and enjoy reading when they are connected to the books that match their needs and interests (Susan La Marca, 2006).

That being said, the following five books are among my own favourite and I think they are highly inspirational reads for Middle School girls:


Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli


This story is about being true to yourself. When Stargirl arrives at Mica High she stands out because she is different from everyone else. Rather than be shunned however, her beautiful smile and heart charm her classmates and she is loved by all.

And then they turn on her. Urged to become ‘normal’ to maintain her popularity, the danger is that Stargirl will give up everything that makes her unique.



This is a story about kindness, true friendship, and acceptance.

August Pullman, born with a facial deformity that makes him very difficult to look at, is about to face school for the first time and enter 5th grade. Being the new kid is hard – being the new kid when your appearance is so different to everyone else takes courage.

This book has been loved the world over and the Choose Kind Movement was inspired by one of its most memorable quotes:



R.J. Palacio, Wonder

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The war that saved my life

This is a story of determination and rising up in the face of adversity.

Set in London during World War 2, this is the story of Ada who was born with a clubfoot and is shunned by her neglectful and sometimes abusive mother and kept locked in her one-room apartment. When the children of London start to be evacuated to the country because of the peril of bombing raids, Ada wastes no time and escapes onto the trains. When she arrives in a country village, Ada is fostered by Susan Smith and so begins her road to recovery and finding her own identity. However, lurking in the background is the threat of the mother who she escaped.


Good night stories for rebel girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Goodnight stories for rebel girls

This is a book of pure inspiration for all girls. Containing 100 stories about extraordinary women from the past and the present and their remarkable achievements.

This video provides some background information from the authors, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, about why they put together this book. Anyone who is concerned about gender equality and the obstacles facing our daughters should watch this video:

Find your tribe

Find your tribe

This book is a guide for teenage girls. It provides all sorts of advice about surviving high school and the adolescent years. In particular, Rebecca’s advice about choosing to hang out with good friends and about being a good friend is so important for girls who often find themselves in toxic relationships that cause a lot of angst.



Posted in Books & Reading, literacy, Read Like a Girl, Reading, Teaching and Learning, YA Literature

Help Girls Read

Help Girls Read

Help girls succeed by igniting a love to read

The importance of reading

Educators and parents alike know that reading literature can be transformative.  Research supports this assertion and validates the importance of story reading to brain development and academic success (Haven, 2007; and Krashen, 2011).

Australian teenage girls’ reading is on the decline

Disturbingly, research conducted last year in Australia found that among Australians aged 14+, “the proportion of men and women reading books has decreased in recent years, most noticeably among women. In 2010, 64.7% of Australian women 14+ read a novel in any given three months, a figure which has since fallen to 60.9%. Similarly, fewer women are reading non-fiction books than they used to, slipping from 39.2% to 34.2% between 2010 and 2015” (Roy Morgan Research, 2016).

Let’s do something about this

As a Teacher-Librarian in a girls’ school, this research is of concern to me and I wanted to do something that would make a difference to the girls in our community. A key strategy for making this difference is to focus on reading and literature promotion.

After collaborating with other passionate colleagues in the teaching and book worlds, the Read Like a Girl movement was established.

Read Like a Girl is a community partnership for the literacy advancement of girls and is a combined endeavour led by Mt Alvernia College and St Rita’s College.  Riverbend Books is a community partner in this project.  This project encapsulates a calendar of reading events aimed at instilling a foundation and love of reading in the college communities and more broadly among girls everywhere.

What we hope to do

We hope that through our calendar of events, we will give the girls in our communities the opportunity to:

  • Attend book events
  • Meet authors
  • Purchase books
  • Participate in conversations about literature, reading, and storytelling
  • Network with other girls, women, and people who value reading and academic success
  • Develop their knowledge of the vast world of books and the opportunities literacy creates

What you can do

You can support this endeavour in practical ways by:

  • Attending our events (starting with the International Women’s Day Breakfast)
  • Spreading our vision by following us on social media (#RLaG) and sharing our advocacy with your own networks
  • Purchasing books for the girls in your life
  • Speaking positively about reading
  • Providing time and space for the girls in your life to read
  • Model reading – visit a bookstore, put your feet up and enjoy a great read



Haven, K. F. (2007). We’ve reached the research results. In Story proof: The science behind the startling power of story (pp. 89-122). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Krashen, S. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Denver: Libraries Unlimited.