September 15, 2011

Guest Post: Spotlight on Psychological Issue Books

Today I'm happy to welcome Small Review to the blog for a Psychtember guest post! She's come up with a Spotlight List of psychological issue books:

Psychological Issues

Normally I don't read issues books. I like happy books that make me smile and have things like bright pink covers and lots of sparkles. So issues books? Not really my thing.

But! Here are six issues books that even *I* think are well worth reading. So if you're like me and hearing "issues" is an automatic DO NOT WANT, then you might just want to check these titles out.

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
Release Date: October 18, 2010
Publisher: Graphia
Pages: 177
Goodreads Page

I had a few problems with this book, particularly with the development (or, rather, lack of development) with the fantasy aspects, but the realistic parts are top notch.

Jackie Morse Kessler's portrayal of the internal torment of anorexia was phenomenally real. If you ever want to know what it feels like to be anorexic on a mental and emotional level, then I highly recommend this book. I have never seen a more accurate and astonishing portrayal. Other sources may show the physical horrors, but no one (in my experience) has so thoroughly and accurately captured the psychological aspects of the disorder like Jackie Morse Kessler.

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
Release Date: March 17, 2009
Publisher: MTV Books
Pages: 245
Goodreads Page

Usually when I talk about this book my recommendation is accompanied by fangirly squees and lots of hand-flapping and OMG JOHN AFTER!!!1.11! But there's more to this book than the white-hot sexiness that is Officer John After (though, really, isn't that enough to get you to pick up this book?)

Underneath all the sexual tension is an equally hard-hitting look at grief and fear. John experienced a loss prior to the events of the book, and he still has not properly dealt with that grief. Instead, he's squashed his dreams and thrown himself into work. And Meg? Well, I can't say much, but Meg's tough-girl attitude is a cover for a secret that, once revealed, made me sit back in shock as I reevaluated all of Meg's actions and thought about how I would react if I were in her shoes. Jennifer Echols' sensitive approach to grief and trauma make Going Too Far a book with surprising depth that has lingered with me long after I read it.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Release Date: 1959
Pages: 324
Goodreads Page

Journeying with Charlie--the test subject of a new drug designed to enhance IQ--as he goes from a man with a retardation level IQ to a super genius is a touching, fascinating, and heartbreaking experience. It is what occurs after this transformation, however, that really makes me sob. While focusing on intelligence, the concept of loss, explored here in many forms, is what sticks with me the most.

Flowers for Algernon is an intriguing look at intelligence and the way an individual's IQ affects both the way the individual relates to the world and the way the world relates to the individual. Narrated through Charlie's journal entries chronicling the experiment, I became hopelessly attached to Charlie and felt every bit of pain and joy he experienced.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Release Date: October 18, 2007
Publisher: Razorbill
Pages: 288
Goodreads Page

Thirteen Reasons Why follows Hannah Baker as she explains the reasons why she decided to commit suicide (and keep in mind, she's kind of an unreliable narrator). Jay Asher walks a tightrope as he explores the ripple effects an individual's actions have on others and how, while these actions may affect us, our decisions are ultimately our own.

Compulsively readable, this book should come with a warning not to read it in public. I was choking back the tears while reading it in a crowded waiting room. I haven't read a more touching book that explored suicide from the perspective of the person who committed it and the people in that person's life.

Where I Want to Be by Adele Griffin
Release Date: April 21, 2005
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Pages: 160
Goodreads Page

This is an extremely short book, but don't let the length fool you; Where I Want to Be is a complex, multifaceted emotional powerhouse. The perspective shifts from Jane, who struggles with mental illness, and her sister Lily who is not mentally ill.

Both sisters wormed their way into my heart with their profoundly real emotions. Jane's child-like approach to the world and her realization that she does not and cannot fit in broke my heart. Lily's guilt and frustration surrounding her sister was palatable and raw. On top of all of that, this is also a story about grief and how each of the characters approach the losses they have suffered.

The Wave by Tod Strasser
Release Date: October 1, 1981
Publisher: Laurel Leaf Books
Pages: 138
Goodreads Page

Honestly, I think this book is kind of awful. It's written in a style that's so dry and hokey. It screams "I'M A SCHOOL ASSIGNMENT" and reads like an eye-roll-inducing after-school special.

But if you can slog though the writing (luckily the book is extremely short), then I promise you'll be rewarded with a story that is a truly terrifying look at the way people can easily embrace fascist-like principles. What makes it even more poignant is that The Wave is a novelization of events that actually happened (the experiment was called The Third Wave).

You can find Small on her Young Adult and Middle Grade book blog Small Review. She holds a BA in psychology with concentrations in psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and clinical psychology. She has worked with young adults in various in-patient and out-patient settings. She is still trying to find a behaviorism schedule that will encourage her to exercise daily (using chocolate as a reward apparently undermines the process).

Thanks for stopping by and sharing this eclectic list of recommendations, Small!

Readers — have you read any of the books Small's suggested? What did you think?


  1. I only read "Flowers for Algernon" and "13 Reasons Why" and I enjoyed both of them immensely. I'm going to put "Going Too Far" and "Where I want to be" on my tbr pile. I've not read anything by these authors and the descriptions for both look really interesting. Thanks for the recs, Small!

  2. I remember Flowers for Algernon! I do!!
    I had totally forgotten I had read it a LONG while ago - I think someone in my house bought it when the movie first came out. Probably one of my aunts.

    Anywya! I LOVE your spotlight. I've been thinking of picking up going too far, but seem to always put it off, I'll try not to do so anymore.

    Also, I can't say I liked 13 reasons why, I thought Hannah's reasons were kind of weak-ish. I know that's kind of mean to say, but that's how I felt.


    anyway, awesome post

  3. Okay, I have to speak up for Hannah as I seem to always be doing. Hannah was depressed. Depression doesn't have a reason. Hannah may have listed reasons why she killed herself, but ultimately, Hannah was depressed, and depression is a dark, lonely place. All Hannah was looking for was help, but by the time she found a friendly face, it was too late. The world hurt too much for her to live in it. She was bullied, tormented by supposed friends, her reputation was called into question, she had no friends, she was raped, they all seem like valid reasons for being depressed and then when she sought help, the people that were supposed to be nonjudgemental and safe, judged or dismissed her. I have been in Hannah's shoes several times and no one wants to listen. Even your best friends don't hear you when you need them.
    Everyone feels things differently. You might be very strong emotionally. But Hannah was beat down and each new thing beat her down even more.

    Moving on, good job Small, though I wouldn't have thought about putting Going Too Far in this list it definitely deals with a big issue. I was so afraid of seeing one I take issue with, but happily no!


  4. Yup, I am one of those people who avoids issue books at all costs. They just don't appeal to me for some reason. There are a few on this list that I've been meaning to maybe give a try though (13 Reasons Why, Flowers for Algernon, and Hunger). How fortunate that you chose 6 extremely short books to choose from to try out!

  5. 13 Reasons Why is easily in my top 20 books that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was heartbreaking. I remember not being able to put it down. I wanted to read Flowers for Algernon too, it's still on my list. Hunger, while good, was bizarre, but intriguing. I've never seen an "issue" book dealt with that way and transformed the story to something more. (though I wish it would have focused more on the fantasy elements too)

    The Wave sounds interesting to me, even though it's probably will read like a school assignment.

  6. Thanks so much for having me here, Danya!

    Rummanah, I hope you like both of them! Going Too Far is the only book of Jennifer Echols that I’ve liked (I tried reading Forget You and Love Story), but I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read so far of Adele Griffin’s.

    Alex, haha yes, it has been a loooong time since I read Flowers for Algernon. I first read it in 7th grade, which was…not recently. :P I loved Going Too Far. Definitely the Jennifer Echols book I’d recommend the most. I think with Hannah it’s really important to remember that her reasons weren’t necessarily reasonable because she wasn’t thinking logically, she was thinking from the emotional perspective of someone who was seriously depressed. I don’t think we’re supposed to agree with Hannah’s choice…or, at least that’s how I read it (because *I* wouldn’t have done what Hannah did).

    Heather, I agree with what you said about depression not having a reason. She did list reasons, but I think you’re right—the biggest reason why she killed herself is that she was depressed, and that isn’t overtly mentioned among her listed reasons. I’m glad you liked my list! I wouldn’t have thought of Going Too Far at first either, but I think that’s because I’m always so distracted by my John After crush :P

    Aylee, ha! I didn’t even notice that all of those books are really short! I guess that goes to show my low tolerance for issue books :P I hope you like them!

    Najela, I agree all around! The Wave really does read like an after school special, but I think it’s still worth reading for the content. It’s fascinating, at least to me :)

  7. Awesome list! I've read half of them and pretty much completely agree with your take!! (Like Hunger- REALLY weak paranormal elements but super spot on with the eating disorder. Painfully spot on!)


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