It’s really important for many people to have characters that represent them. Identification is important for everyone! So, for our Young Adult book fans, here are some books with neuroatypical characters you might be able to relate to.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness: Mikey and OCD
What would happen if you weren’t the chosen one? That’s exactly what Ness explores in this book, focusing on the lives of other people who live in a town where some other group of misfit heroes are saving the world. Our main character, Mikey has OCD, and it isn’t the main focus of the story.
“I feel like I’m at the bottom of a well. I feel like I’m way down this deep, deep hole and I’m looking up and all there is is this little dot of light and I have to shout at the top of my lungs for anyone to hear me and even when I do, I say the wrong thing or they don’t really listen or they’re just humouring me.”
― Patrick Ness,
However, unlike with many books, this illness is not a “tease” masking as representation. It’s acknowledged, it’s a part of who Mikey is, and it doesn’t hinder his ability to be an amazing friend. His sister Mel has anorexia, and Mikey often worries about being unwanted in his friend group. With LGBT+ representation, characters of different ethnicities, and overall brilliant diversity, this book is a must-read.
Unspeakable – Abbie Rushton: Megan and PTSD
Now here’s an underappreciated book. LGBT+? Check. Mental illness representation? Check. So why isn’t it being pushed everywhere? It’s a mystery. The protagonist of Unspeakable, Megan, stopped talking after experiencing a traumatic incident. When she makes friends with the new girl at her school, Jasmine, everything changes. She begins to talk, slowly, to the girl who has captured her attention and stolen her heart. I don’t think, before this book, I had ever read a book with a mute main character, and it remains one of the books I believe to be most under-recognised brilliant books.
Lady Midnight – Cassandra Clare: Ty and ASD
Ever heard of The Mortal Instruments? If not, where have you been? Lady Midnight comes from the companion series, The Dark Artifices, and focuses on demon hunters investigating a supernatural killing spree. Tiberius “Ty” Blackthorn is one of the main group of characters, and has been confirmed as being on the autistic spectrum by Clare. He is incredibly intelligent, and has a gift for puzzling things out.
“Julian had heard stories-whispers really-of other Shadowhunter children who thought or felt differently. Who had trouble focusing. Who claimed letters rearranged themselves on the page when they tried to read them. Who fell prey to dark sadnesses that seemed to have no reason, or fits of energy they couldn’t control.”
He struggles with communication sometimes, and his twin sister Livvy is very protective of him. Rarely seen without his trusty headphones, and somewhat in his own world or with his nose buried in a book, Ty is a character whose neuroatypicality makes him both unique and a valuable asset to his team.
Summer’s Dream – Cathy Cassidy: Summer and anorexia
Perhaps one for slightly younger readers (11+), this book is a great stepping stone for those who feel they’re outgrowing Jacqueline Wilson’s novels. Summer Tanberry is an aspiring ballet dancer who, having secured an audition at a prestigious dance school, becomes obsessed with losing weight. Dealing with the topic of eating disorders in a less adult book is often difficult, and Cassidy handles it with delicacy and grace whilst highlighting the importance of having a healthy weight. For anyone looking for books to recommend to younger sisters, this might be the one.
Girls Under Pressure – Jacqueline Wilson: Ellie and bulimia
Speaking of Jacqueline Wilson and slightly younger readers, this book in the famed Wilson’s Girls series also handles the topic of eating disorders, with the central characters struggling with bulimia, anorexia, and the many problems that come with a poor body image. This book, more so than Summer’s Dream (in my opinion), handles the effects of eating disorders in a far more brutal and hard-hitting manner. From the impact illness can have on a sufferer’s family to a friend being hospitalised, Girls Under Pressure is a book that really drives its message home. Possibly one to avoid for those who find eating disorders triggering, but definitely one of Dame Wilson’s more eye-opening teen and pre-teen novels.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath: Esther and depression
It would be somewhat criminal to have such a list without mentioning The Bell Jar. The semi-autobiographical novel is one of the stereotypical staple feminist books. However, this book is focused on mental illness, and is dark. Heads up: this one is harrowing. Dealing with topics such as attempted suicide, psychiatric hospitals, and some of the more horrific “cures” of the 1900s such as ECT, this book is one for older readers.
“I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of the throat and I’d cry for a week.”
― Sylvia Plath,
Were there any books/characters we missed? I can think of a few, but there’s only so much time! Let us know your favourite neuroatypical book characters below, and share with other readers who may be interested.
Take care, friends. x