I'm super excited to welcome BOOK BIRTHDAY author Marisa Noelle to the blog today to celebrate the release of THE SHADOW KEEPERS, a fabulous YA fantasy from Magnolia Press. You can find all the pre-order links and blurb information below, but first, Marisa talks about mental health rep in YA books, a topic we should definitely be talking about more.
Mental Health in YA books
As authors, we owe it to our readers to present a realistic, inclusive world. Whether we have an own voices story to tell, or our experience comes from research, it is important that readers can see themselves in a book. Recently, this has meant ensuring diversity is included as well as LGBTQ+, disability, chronic illness and mental health, to name a few.
The diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions is still in its infancy and we have a long way to go before the stigma is erased. One of the key changes should be, in my opinion, the very title “mental health,” which can promote negative responses. In turn, people hide away their concerns and doubts and don’t get the help they need.
Our teenage years can be some of the most emotional and impressionable, as not only our bodies go through significant changes, but so does the development of our brains. Therefore, it is especially important that we shine a light on the problems teenagers face and show them how to fight their way through.
During these sensitive years, teenagers often clamp down on their emotions, are unable to find the words to talk about how they are feeling or are just plain embarrassed about having a problem. Many avoid seeking help. If we, as authors, can show them support in books, to make them feel a little less alone, to normalize their condition, then it’s an important and responsible role.
When I was fifteen I spent a year with anorexia and it took a tremendous amount of strength and family support to fight my way through. At the time, even though I was at a private girls school where the library was well stocked, I found only one book that deal with the issue. Unable to put into words how I was feeling, I was able to hand that book to my mother and say “this.” It’s good to see that many more books are being released around the topic, my favorite of this year so far The Year I Didn’t Eat by Samuel Pollen.
That wasn’t my only brush with a mental health problem. While I was at university, two of my friends died from Meningitis and the experience catapulted me into an anxiety disorder which I still live with today. It took me many years, hours of therapy, three different psychologists and the unending support of my parents and husband to find myself in a functional place. I have my ups and downs and will continue to do so, but I have been down the journey of denial, anger, and am finally at acceptance (mostly). But at the time, I never found a novel that showed what I was going through. Yes, there were self-help books and text books etc, and I educated myself on the physiological symptoms pf panic attacks, but I wanted to know I was ok how I was. That I didn’t need to change. That it wasn’t my fault. And, I believe, the only way to show people with mental health issues that they are not at fault, is to give them a voice on the page. Show how normal it is. Take the stigma away. Let’s raise our teenagers with the confidence to be ok in their own skin and that they don’t have to hide from help. The message here: You don’t have to be fixed.
As a result of my experiences, I often include mental health issues in my own writing. The forthcoming The Shadow Keepers, releases on July 30th and follows a sixteen-year-old girl who sees shadowy creatures in mirrors. When no one believes her and after years of being tormented, she develops anxiety and OCD. When she is remanded to the UK’s best mental health hospital, she knows she will have to face her fears, face the shadows. But there is a unique strength in those who have mental health issues in the book, and it is only them who can destroy these insidious monsters.
My second book, The Unadjusteds, due out November 1st, also looks at mental health. In a world where genetic enhancements are the norm, sixteen-year-old Silver must face this elite society as an unadjusted. She fights for her right to remain human in the face of temptation, self-doubt and anxiety. She bears the responsibility for many lives and feels the full weight of that burden.
No two experiences of mental illness are the same. And while I can write about my own, it will be very different from the next author or reader. But I hope that the more authors include these very normal, human conditions, the more teens will speak out and become willing to get the right help. To embrace their condition with pride and look for the positives it can bring.
THE SHADOW KEEPERS...
Sixteen-year-old Georgia Boone has seen the shadow creatures in mirrors and other reflective surfaces since she was six-years-old. But no one--not even her brother, the person she’s closest to in the entire world--believes her. She is all alone in the hellish world where crow-like creatures hunt her everywhere she goes
When an afternoon of shopping ends in violence and blood, Georgia is sent to the UK’s most prestigious mental health hospital: Brookwood Hospital. There, she’s forced to face her fears and answer the question:
Are the shadows real, or is this all in her head?
At Brookwood, the shadow creatures are more present than ever. Each day they grow stronger. With the help of a mysterious boy who lives inside the mirror world, she might be able to prove that she’s not hallucinating and stop the shadows from destroying the human world.
MARISA NOELLE is a writer of young adult and middle grade novels. She leans towards grounded science-fiction, urban fantasy and paranormal but mental health issues are important to her writing too. Her first book, The Shadow Keeper is due out summer 2019 and her second, The Unadjusteds, in October.
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