Annotated Bibliography on Mental Health Conditions

In a world where appearances can be deceiving, some teenagers put on a mask to fit in. They pretend that they have the world figured out, when on the inside they may feel more alone than they let on. There are also other teens who are not well-informed on situations and might bully someone based off of something that they do not fully understand.

            I wanted to explore books that could relate to teenagers with mental health conditions and could also teach others who don’t have mental illnesses what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. The books that I read explore different mental illnesses that affect the teens and preteens in their daily lives. Some cases were smaller, while others affected the characters’ lives more. The books that I read focused on teens with depression, Asperger’s syndrome, different forms of anxiety, and PTSD. Each book gave a viewpoint that felt both relatable to young adults in similar situations and informative to young adults who do not experience the mental health condition.

            About one in five children tend to have a mental illness. It is very common nowadays, yet it is still a sensitive subject to bring up. Mental illness is seen as a “taboo and stigmatized topic,” where “adolescents often deal with it without the support they might have when facing physical illnesses” (Wickham). It is hard to ask for help, especially when you are not receiving support from others.

            Emma Newman, author of Planetfall, describes the two types of people who need to see characters with mental illnesses. She explains that the first group “needs this representation so we don’t feel alone” (Newman). The reader can connect well with characters who have similar struggles and mental health conditions. When mental illness is treated as a taboo topic, it makes those with mental health conditions feel more alone. But when it is represented in the media, it helps people feel less alone and know that there are people who want to help support them. Representation in the media also helps with the second group that Emma Newman mentions, which are those who need to understand what it is like to experience mental illness. She also explains that this helps people learn about “genuine empathy” (Newman). If people do not understand what it’s like to have a mental illness, they are less likely to be empathetic towards others with mental illnesses. But with more exposure to characters who experience mental health conditions, people might learn how to be more understanding and empathetic towards mental illnesses. The books listed below all have characters who are all relatable and also teach more about mental illnesses.

Erskine, Kathryn. Mockingbird (mok’ing-burd). New York, Philomel Books, 2010.

            Kathryn Erskine’s book, Mockingbird, focuses on a 5th grade girl named Caitlin whose older brother dies in a school shooting. The shooting affects the whole community including Caitlin and her father. Her older brother was the one person who knew how to explain everything to Caitlin in a way that she understands. Caitlin has Asperger’s syndrome, and throughout the book she has trouble learning how to empathize with others on their pain. She struggles with making friends and with trying to help stop her dad’s sadness. But, with the help of her counselor, Caitlin makes much progress throughout the book in learning more about empathy and how to be a good friend to others. When she learns about the word, “closure”, she makes it a mission to find what to do to help her and her father, and even the rest of the community, reach this “closure” that’s supposed to fix the pain in their hearts from the shooting.

            This book was a wonderful way to see how someone with Asperger’s syndrome may act. I think that this is a great way for students to learn more about Asperger’s syndrome and autism. It might also be a good book for someone with Asperger’s syndrome to read and relate to the main character or see how they both interact in the world differently. Erskine wrote this book to teach people what life is like for a child with Asperger’s syndrome. I find this important, especially because of a mean comment that a college classmate made in my class last year about another classmate who had Asperger’s syndrome. This book made me discover more about Asperger’s syndrome and watch how Caitlin grew from having no empathy for others nor a want to build relationships up to the end of the novel where she learned to empathize and found a small group of students that she could talk to.

Albertalli, Becky. The Upside of Unrequited. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.

            Albertalli’s book was one of my favorites that I read. I related so much to the main character, especially with her fears of not being liked by others and of being replaced by someone better. Molly is a teenager who is afraid of rejection. She has twenty seven crushes from over the years, yet barely even talks to any of them. Her twin sister, on the other hand is confident and could get any guy or girl that she wanted. Cassie has recently gotten a new girlfriend, introduced to her by Molly, and Molly feels like she’s being replaced by the girlfriend. But, Cassie’s girlfriend has a cool hipster friend who shows interest in Molly. Cassie is excited, thinking that Molly and the hipster guy will get together and then everyone will stay close. But Molly is unsure on whether or not he actually likes her, because she cannot imagine that someone so cool would like someone that looks like her. And then her coworker comes into the picture, and she starts falling for him too. It’s a big mess.

            I like how natural this book comes across. Molly’s anxiety is not one of the main plot points, but it still has a significant role in her personality and how she acts. She openly explains how she takes Zoloft every morning. Instead of letting this tiny detail get lost, Molly mentions it each morning in the book as she takes it in a very casual way. Her thoughts in the book sometimes show her anxieties about how she thinks others view her, which is relevant even in a normal high school student’s mind when they worry about how they look in front of others. Body image comes up a lot in the book, because Molly is a lot bigger than Cassie and was bullied in school and by her grandmother because of it. Some of her anxieties also come from previous experiences of boys making fun of her weight. The book also touches on a lot of diverse topics that are relevant in today’s modern society. Molly and Cassie are sperm babies with two moms. There are also a lot of talks about being a virgin and feeling like the only one when others act like they’ve experienced a lot more. Racial remarks are also brought up through Cassie and Molly’s slightly racist grandmother and through outsiders looking in at a family with one white mom and one black mom. I found this to be a really eye-opening book that I would love to read again.

Schutz, Samantha. I Don’t Want to Be Crazy. New York, Scholastic Inc, 2006.

            This book is a memoir about Samantha’s journey during college with anxiety. The book is written in a poetry format, explaining her anxiety attacks in the middle of classes and semesters abroad and how she copes with it. Samantha doesn’t have steady relationships with guys and doesn’t really find her niche of friends until the end of freshman year. Her friends didn’t always understand why she acted very mysterious and closed until sophomore year when they spent more one-on-one time with her. She found that her friends were the best way to help calm her down during anxiety attacks, and even found a friend with similar attacks that she could then help. The book is filled with ups and downs as Samantha learns to control her anxiety attacks until it gets out of control again.

            I wouldn’t recommend this book for younger readers. This would maybe be a book for seniors in high school, and even then, I would use it with caution. The book was very depressing at certain moments, especially with it being real experiences for the author. It is a great wake-up call for a serious form of anxiety, since the author would experience attacks almost twice a day in classes. It shows how sometimes college becomes stressful enough to cause anxiety, but it might cause students to be more wary of going based on her experiences. It is a really good book though if someone can relate to her experiences or if they are wanting to learn about more extreme cases of anxiety. There is also a lot of resources in back of the book to help those who are struggling and want to ask for help. I would use certain selections in this book to teach a 12th grade class instead of the whole book and warn them of triggers in the book before starting the unit. This book focuses a lot more on the author’s anxiety instead of it being a side plot, unlike some of the other books in this list.

Vizzini, Ned. It’s Kind of a Funny Story. New York, Hyperion, 2015.

            High schooler Craig Gilner has been studying all of his life to get into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School. Earning a place in this school means that you basically have it made to having a highly successful career in life after going to a good college. Craig scores a perfect score on the entrance exam, securing himself a spot in the elite school. But soon he realizes that the school is a lot more challenging than he expected. He starts feeling very depressed to the point where he can’t eat or sleep normally. Craig goes through multiple therapists until he starts feeling better. Once he reaches that point, Craig stops taking his medicine and seeing his latest therapist. But eventually Craig’s depression comes back, and he decides that he can no longer live with it. He nearly kills himself before calling for help. He checks himself into a mental hospital, where he meets others with mental illnesses struggling to also get better. While living here, Craig discovers the causes of his depression and anxiety. He also learns how to combat those causes in order to prepare himself for the world after he leaves.

            This book gives a more positive view on depression. It also gives many resources on how someone can look for help if they are feeling suicidal. Ned Vizzini started writing this book shortly after checking out of a psychiatric hospital. His experience was very similar to Craig’s, which helps gives a realistic feeling to the writing.

Reilly, K.J. Words We Don’t Say. New York, Hyperion, 2018.

            Joel Higgins is still grieving over losing his best friend last year. He has 901 saved texts on his phone addressed to his best friend, his crush, and his principal that he has been unable to press send to. Junior year of high school requires him to do community service at a soup kitchen with his crush, Eli, and the new student, Benj. Eli is known for trying to solve every problem and having a list for everything. Benj is known to say odd things at odd times that annoy Joel, but eventually they become comrades. At the soup kitchen, Joel also meets Rooster. Rooster is a veteran who doesn’t speak to anyone. Joel stumbles across Rooster’s home one day and is determined to help Rooster in any way after seeing how bad it looked. This begins his many trips of snacks and socks up to Rooster’s shack in the woods. Through this book, Joel learns how to cope with the loss of his best friend and how find solutions to all of the problems around him.

            This book deals a lot with PTSD. Many veterans end up at the soup kitchen each Wednesday night. Joel learns through other veterans’ stories on how hard life becomes when they return from war.  Through those stories, Joel starts suspecting that he might also have PTSD from “the thing that happened.” Eventually, he finds a way to receive closure for him and his friends.  

Works Cited

Newman, Emma. “Why It’s Important to Write About Mental Health in Fiction.” Read It Forward, Penguin Random House, 21 Apr. 2019, http://www.readitforward.com/essay/article/mental-health-in-fiction/.

Wickham, Anastasia. “It Is All in Your Head: Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature – Wickham – 2018 – The Journal of Popular Culture – Wiley Online Library.” The Journal of Popular Culture, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 25 Jan. 2018, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jpcu.12641.

Saenz Connecting With His Characters

I had never heard of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe or the author, Benjamin Alire Saenz until this class. I was immediately interested after reading a summary on the book, and could barely put it down after starting the story.

Since we talked so much about Lewis Carroll, J.K. Rowling, and the connections to their writings, it made me really curious about Benjamin Alire Saenz. Our two previous books were written by authors that I believe most of us have probably encountered sometime within our lives, even if it was just the name popping up online once in a while. I might just be very behind in the book world, but I haven’t come across Saenz name as much as I have with Rowling or Carroll. Once I started researching Saenz a bit more, I realized how much he had in common with the characters in his books.

Interview with Benjamin Alire Saenz

This interview with Saenz shows a lot of elements seen in both Ari and Dante. For example, Saenz says that, “If I didn’t live in the desert, I would still be writing about the desert (0:50). The desert is a huge place that is important to Ari and Dante. Ari’s love for the desert began when Dante and his family took Ari there to look through Dante’s telescope at the stars. This is also where the title of the book is seen, when Dante whispers, “Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe” (Saenz 43). The moment where the title of the book is mentioned tends to be an important moment. It feels as if Ari always ends up back in the desert throughout the book. Usually these moments in the desert are at night time when the stars are out and remind Ari of how beautiful the universe is without any “light pollution.” This relates to how Saenz feels about deserts and how it helps his imagination spread out. Saenz seems to enjoy circulating back to the desert as much as Ari does. The desert was the first place that Ari wanted to go to after he could drive his car alone (Saenz 168). It is also the final location of the book when he and Dante kiss and hold hands.

Benjamin Alire Saenz painting

Another similar characteristic between Saenz, Dante, and Ari is their love for poetry. Dante always encourages Ari to read poetry books, until Ari ends up liking poetry. After Ari admits to his mother that he likes poetry, she says to him, “‘Maybe you’ll be a writer,’ she said. ‘A poet.’ It sounded like such a beautiful thing when she said it. Too beautiful for me” (Saenz 100). Ari finds a beauty in poetry after Dante introduces it to him. It’s something that he might like to even write one day, even though at this moment he finds it an unbelievable dream. Saenz was on his 5th book of poetry during this interview (2010), and found fun with writing the poetry through exploring new ideas and topics.

Art was a third form discussed in this interview that I found could compare Saenz with Dante (and even Ari in some of his text-infused artworks). Saenz has so many paintings in his workshop, along with making his own paintings. Artwork is also seen throughout his novel through the book of Mexican art that Dante gives Ari’s father and the artwork that Dante creates. Ari’s father ends up being able to connect with Dante’s father through their love of artwork. Ari is also able to see many different emotions through Dante’s artwork. Ari noticed how Dante expressed through the chair drawing “the way the shadows fell on the chair and gave it depth and made it appear as if it was something more than an inanimate object. There was something sad and solitary about the sketch” (Saenz 74). Saenz’s art reminds me of this moment, especially in the pieces that he combines his words with paint. It gives a wonderful expression to it. As soon as I saw the art combined with the words, I was reminded of Dante and Ari and how they are two separate people at the beginning of the book who end up fitting together in the end.

Saenz tends to draw from a lot of his own experiences for his books. His experiences tend to be more openly related to his characters though than Carroll and Rowling’s, where you might have to dig deeper into their intentions behind the books compared to Saenz:

“Sáenz lived a childhood that resembled that of many of his young characters, who are often intellectually curious boys from desert communities, drawn to art and books, who grow up too fast and long to be noticed and embraced by the adults around them” (Balli).

Saenz even mentions how his writings seem to be a way for him to save himself and how most of his works deal with stuff that he has dealt with in his own life. I found this so interesting to discover about him!

Another neat thing to discover, which I realized when I found this Tweet of his, was that Saenz is also gay! He had a hard time coming to terms with this at first, similar to how Ari took a while to discover that he had feelings that went deeper than friendship for Dante. He had a distanced relationship with his father and acloser relationship with his mother, like Ari at first, although I think I would much prefer Ari’s family to Saenz’s (Saenz was abused as a child). Saenz also admits that he’s a lot like Ari.

Tweet about Benjamin Saenz

This also makes me wonder about the connections between other characters and the authors of these two books!

Works Cited

Balli, Cecilia. “The Passion of Benjamin Saenz.” TexasMonthly, Aug. 2013, https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/the-passion-of-benjamin-saenz/.

BorderPoet. “I always knew this painting needed something. It hung on my wall for more than three years. And tonight, I finally have the courage to finish it. Title…after the storm, my heart.” 12 September 2018, 10:47pm, https://twitter.com/BorderPoet/status/1040084513345425409.

BorderPoet. “After many sleepless nights, I have decided not 2 run 4 President. The electorate is simply not ready 4 a Gay Latino Prez. & Emma said I should stick to writing and taking her for her daily walks. Knowing the constitution doesn’t make me Prez material.” 9 March 2019. 6:12am, https://twitter.com/BorderPoet/status/1104354324988264448.

KRWGnews. Poetry and the US – Mexico Border. YouTube, YouTube, 7 Aug. 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz_56AzySUQ.

NPR Staff. “Discovering Sexuality Through Teen Lit.” NPR, 20 Feb. 2013, https://www.npr.org/2013/02/20/172495550/discovering-sexuality-through-teen-lit.

Serrao, Nivea. “Benjamin Alire Saenz on How The Inexplicable Logic of My Life Explores Identity.” Entertainment Weekly, 10 Mar. 2017, https://ew.com/books/2017/03/10/benjamin-alire-saenz-inexplicable-logic-life/.

The Theme of Love in Harry Potter

I feel like there are so many moments of love inside of this book that it’s hard to focus on only a couple of specific relationships. There’s the love that comes through friendships in the story. There’s the love from Hagrid throughout the book as he cares for Harry and as he cares for Norbert as his “mommy” (Rowling 235). There’s also the love from Mrs. Weasley to Harry by making a Christmas sweater for him despite Ron saying earlier that she has little time because of having five kids to care for (Rowling 101). I could even try talking about the love of readers towards the book and fandom itself and how they grow to have strong emotions when bad things happen to their beloved characters. But the two instances of love that stand out to me the most were the love of Harry’s mother and Snape’s sense of “invisible” love towards Harry that he shows a little more discreetly than others in the book.

This is the scene where Dumbledore describes why Quirrell was unable to touch Harry (skip to 2:11)

Lily Potter’s love for Harry saved him both on the night that his parents died and when Quirrell tried to harm him. It’s a magic that is even stronger than any death spell that could be cast against it. Rowling describes this in her website, Pottermore. The one thing that Harry has which Voldemort has never received is love. Voldemort cares more about being in power and staying alive than caring enough to love others.

There is a huge difference when it comes to the Harry’s love-filled childhood versus Voldemort’s hatred. Dumbledore even mentions how important it is for Harry to stay with family after his parents die. He tells Professor McGonagall, “I’ve come to bring Harry to his aunt and uncle. They’re the only family he has left now…It’s the best place for him” (Rowling 13). The Dursleys are not the best representation of a loving family towards Harry, but Dumbledore might not have known how badly they would have treated Harry despite Professor McGonagall’s objections.

JK Rowling describing her intent of placing importance on mother’s love in the books

Even so, Harry still developed a sense of love through the care that his parents gave him before he arrived at the Dursleys, which Rowling believed affected him still. I never realized until researching this theme that the reason why Voldemort didn’t understand love that extended to his childhood. The video and article above contains some spoilers to Voldemort’s past mentioned in later books, but becomes very important when showing how he never understood love based on his disconnection from the rest of his family (I’m sorry for the spoilers, I tried really hard not to!).

In the forest scene during Harry’s detention, Harry and Malfoy found a hooded figure drinking the blood of a slain unicorn. Harry is saved by Firenze who explains why it was so horrible for the hooded figure to be drinking the unicorn blood:

“‘That is because it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn,’ said Firenze. ‘Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips” (Rowling 258).

The hooded figure ended up being Professor Quirrell and Voldemort. I thought that this quote helped show how Voldemort sees things only for his own gain. He is willing to go to any extremes, even risk Professor Quirrell’s life, despite sharing a body with him for so long. “He left Quirrell to die; he shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies” (Rowling 298). Voldemort is using those who trust him only for his own gain, showing no love even to them. Voldemort is unable to understand love’s protection and the magic behind it because he has no experience with love. So Voldemort wouldn’t know that Lily’s love saved Harry from him, nor how to get past its power in order to harm Harry.

Another form of love in the book involves an unlikely character, and not everyone will agree with me on it at this early point in the series. For some reason, I feel like Snape still shows a small sliver of love through his protection of Harry in the first book. I wasn’t completely sold on it happening this early in the books, but after reading the fourth point in Sackstein’s article, I realized that it might not have been too early to see it, especially with knowing how guarded Snape is in revealing any emotion towards non-Slytherins at Hogwarts.

Snape was immediately seen from the start as the bad guy in Harry’s mind. He was the strict teacher who tended to be seen in the wrong places at the wrong times. For most of the book, the three friends thought that Snape was trying to take the Sorcerer’s Stone and force Quirrell to give up the location of it. By the end, Quirrell reveals that he was the one trying to kill Harry: “I’d have managed it before then if Snape hadn’t been muttering a countercurse, trying to save you…Why do you think he wanted to referee your next match? He was trying to make sure I didn’t do it again” (Rowling 289). Snape is quiet in how he works around caring about Harry. In the classroom, he is constantly docking off points to Gryffindor because of Harry, and yet he feels the need to save Harry from harm. Dumbledore explained it as feeling indebted to Harry’s father, but Harry had trouble understanding that reasoning behind it. When I looked back at that sentence, it made me question if there was a reason behind Harry having trouble understanding why Snape would save Harry to call it even then go back to hating Harry and his father’s memory.

But you might also be able to see that if there wasn’t other intent behind Snape protecting Harry for the first year, it could be seen as another way that Harry’s parents’ love was protecting him, since that connection between Harry’s father and Professor Snape ended up causing Snape to protect Harry from Voldemort’s harm. (And I’m really trying not to extend to other books with this, so I will probably stop there with the matter just in case!)

References:

Adejobi, Alicia. “Harry Potter Fan Fixes Heartbreaking Death and Everyone Is ‘Crying’.” Metro, Associated Newspapers Limited, 7 Nov. 2018, https://metro.co.uk/2018/11/07/harry-potter-fans-crying-after-writer-fixes-a-heartbreaking-death-in-deathly-hallows-8115517/

Columbus, Chris, director. Harry and Dumbledore – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. YouTube, YouTube, 16 Jan. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1c3EmrySSI.

Kashar, Leah. “5 Life Lessons From the Harry Potter Series.” HuffPost News, Verizon Media, 3 May 2013, www.huffpost.com/entry/harry-potter-lessons_b_3208946.

Rowling, J.K. “Why Is Love Such a Powerful Form of Magic?” Pottermore, J.K. Rowling, 0AD, www.pottermore.com/features/why-is-love-such-a-powerful-form-of-magic.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York, Scholastic, 2008.

Rowling, JK. Mother’s Love. YouTube, YouTube, 12 Feb. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9ya2S17D0c.

Sackstein, Starr. “10 Teachable Moments From ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’.” Education Week – Work in Progress, Editorial Projects in Education, 10 Apr. 2017, blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/2017/04/10_teachable_moments_from_harr.html.

Zimmerman, Virginia. “Harry Potter and the Gift of Time.” Children’s Literature, 2009, pp. 209–210., muse.jhu.edu/article/265666/pdf.

Jill’s Introduction

Hi, everyone! I’m sorry that I’m so late to the game! I was finishing up my May term classes and time got away from me, but I’m here now! 😂

My name is Jillian Hamill, but I tend to go by Jill (either name is fine though!). I am from Chesterfield, MO and am going into my fourth year (out of 5) at SIUE as a music education/music history double major with an English endorsement.

I’m not doing too many super exciting things this summer, except for classes, work, practicing the violin, and hopefully reading more than previous summers. I might try to get another Glow Night going with some friends in July again though! It has become an annual thing where I invite a bunch of friends to play games at night on a football field with a whole bunch of flashlights/finger lights, glow sticks, and snow cones. We like to call it our “One Day of Exercise of the Year.”

It has been a while since I’ve been able to read for fun, but when I do, I am almost always stuck in the fantasy and science fiction novels. I have not yet finished them, but I am determined to someday sit down and read Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park all of the way through. The most recent books that I have read outside of classes though were a couple of autobiographies on Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson. I was never a nonfiction reader, although I was surprised at how many times I laughed while reading Bassoon King and how much I actually enjoyed the books.

I’ve had quite a few online classes and hybrid classes, but none like this before. I’m a bit scared that I’ll miss something or forget to do something, but learning how this works will hopefully get easier as time goes along! My literature courses that I have taken so far have been amazing! I felt like I got along better with students in my literature classes than in my music courses sometimes! 😂

I feel like the “ideal” student is someone who actively participates and is open to new opinions. It’s hard to keep a conversation going with others when no one participates, and also hard to continue a conversation when someone shuts it down or only wants to argue.

I’m really excited to start this journey and read more literature that I have not yet been exposed to. This is my first exposure to a lot of the books in this course, and I am very excited to read them and discuss them with all of you!