Last night, not for the first time, I stayed up to finish a book.
It was nearly 3 when I finished reading, and I was confused.
Confused by a book, because it was a confusing, tied-up knot of a book.
And, honestly, the fact that it had left me close to tears wasn’t helping.
But I liked it, really, I did. And it was good.
Good. Not great. Pretty good, though.
It was called We Were Liars, by the way, by E. Lockheart, I think. All mystery and idyllic teenage life and long, sunny summers and dark secrets and money that Mere Mortals will never have.
Enjoyable, quite gripping, with a very unique writing style.
I recommend it. I want opinions.
Anyway. I’ll begin to make my point now.
As soon as I finished the book, the first thing I did was open Goodreads.
As millions of booklovers across the world do, I have a Goodreads account, and I log all my reads and rate books that I read before I made an account, which was only a couple of months ago, and sometimes I write reviews.
I say sometimes. I’ve written two.
Goodreads, by the way, if you don’t know, is a sort-of social media where you can enter everything you’ve read, and rate and review and look at other reviews and add about 10,000 books to your to-be-read shelf every time you open it, and receive about 100,000 recommendations, and it’s great, because books.
And I finished this book, which (spoilers oops) raises a whole bunch of questions about insanity and mental health and stability and all that kind of thing. So I rated it, and wrote a quick review (which you can go read at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/62310744-jemima?order=d&sort=review&view=reviews hint, hint, plug, plug) and then I turned to the ‘recommendations for you’ tab, and I proceeded to spend about half an hour looking through the recommendations page at Young Adult and Contemporary fiction, which are the genres that I find myself reading the most, even though I prefer fantasy. I’m rather picky when it comes to my fantasy, though, so I’ve given up on Goodreads suggesting me any I like.
Anyway, there I was, going through all these books, looking at the covers, at the pretty girls, and the bright colours, and the childish drawings of stars and hearts, and close up shots of bright green eyes or slightly parted pink lips, or silhouetted photos of embracing couples or crying girls or intertwined hands or cityscapes or buildings in the dark, *takes a deep breath* and when I saw a particularly pretty girl, or a particularly bright colour, or a particularly poignant drawing of a heart in black crayon, I would click on the book and read the synopsis, and the little excerpt, and the reviews, and before too long at all I was overwhelmed by a common theme.
Here is the average blurb that I saw:
Saving the Stars – Becky Smith
“I want to help you, Astrid. Just let me try and help.”
“I’m sorry. You can’t help me. No one can.”
“I can try.”
“No, you can’t.”
“I can’t, or you won’t let me?”
Astrid has spent her whole life hiding from her past, from all the things that hurt her, from all the things that made her who she is. But her past seems to be catching up to her, and she’s worried that it’s going to repeat itself. But this time, she won’t accept help. That’s what got her into this mess last time.
Ben is golden boy – good grades, a good family, and good prospects. Until, one day, he speaks to the girl that he’s always watched from afar. She’s in trouble, but she won’t seem to admit it, and she desperately needs someone’s help, before the unthinkable happens.
Before the unthinkable happens again.
But will she ever accept his help?
‘This is a poignantly written story of love and the healing that it brings. 4 stars – every girl should read this book.’
‘This is one of the most relatable, understanding, and honestly incredible books I’ve ever read, and if I could make this compulsory reading for everyone then I would. 5 stars.’
‘Becky Smith’s take on mental health and what it’s like to love someone living in denial is heart-wrenchingly real, and her characters and their plights are capable of moving to tears. With biting humour, sharp sarcasm, and life-destroying twists and turns, this book is a must-read for fans of the Young Adult genre.’
Wow. Ground breaking. A book about with a girl with an unconventional name and equally unconventional parent-figure, and a dark history of mental health problems, until she meets someone new – normally a boy, or if it was released in the past year or so, then it’s probably a new best friend – and her past all of a sudden seems to come rushing back, and she dips once again into poor mental health, amidst wonderful adventures with said new friend, and about three quarters of the way through, there’s an accident, and the girl has a breakdown, and she rejects new-friend, saying that they shouldn’t be near her, look what happened, she’s a bad influence. But new-friend argues and is a nice person, and fights the witty, sarcastic, troubled main character with their niceness and own, understated and less witty sarcasm, at which point they reveal their own troubled history, normally involving a dead or no-longer-around relative or friend, and they’re now supporting their family or trying to raise money for college or something like that, and the book ends with the main character deciding that they need a fresh start, for their own sake, and with the new-friend achieving their dreams and telling the girl that they’ll always love her, and never stop thinking about her.
This kind of book is great, actually. I’m a sucker for a good romance or friendship, and a good reminder of the importance of mental health. I love that kind of book. In moderation.
Having a good selection of books about mental health and how it can’t just be fixed by love and how sacrifices need to be made, but friendship is also incredibly powerful in recovery, is a great thing, and it’s a very good selection that we have, and we’ve come a long way from books that shame mental illness, or books that act like a new boyfriend is enough to fix all your problems.
But we’ve come that way. We’ve got there, and I think we can stop, now.
I recently read a book with the above plot, about a girl with bipolar disorder, and her summer boyfriend didn’t know about it, until an accident that was down to her disorder, and her whole history came out in one conversation, and the book ended with the boy raising the money to re-open his dads restaurant, and the girl moving away to recover.
I also recently read a book with that plot, about a girl who moved to town after a suicide attempt to live with her aunt, and didn’t tell her new best friend, who got caught up in one of her mad plans to make herself feel alive, and wound up in hospital, which sent the main character spiralling back into depression and eventually makes the decision to move away and have a fresh start with a foster family.
I ALSO recently read a book – and stop me if you know this one – about a girl who is a living, breathing mystery, with all sorts of struggles and is clearly a ‘problem child’, and when she goes missing her not-boyfriend goes on an insane journey to track her down and help her, to bring her home and help her ‘get better’, and when he finds her, only after a car-crash, of course, she refuses to return, because he can’t help her, she needs to do that on her own, and the not-boyfriend finally gets closure on his relationship with her and moves onto better things.
These were all good books. Well written, they stuck with me, and made good points about life, love, friendship, etcetera, etcetera. But when you strip them back, they have the same plot, or at least a very similar one.
I’m tired, of the eccentric names.
Margo, Caddy, Coco, Violet, Penelope, yes, they’re lovely names, but where are my Emilys at? I know 4 Emilys my age, and no Cleopatras. I know lots of Sophies, and Hannahs, and a fair few Ellies, but no Brookes, or Ettas, or Giselles, or Crows.
I’m tired of the nice, introverted, quiet best friends and boyfriends.
Just because someone doesn’t have a mental illness, it doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same as all the other people without a mental illness.
I’m tired of the craggy houses on cliff-edges.
Lovely thought, but not very realistic, really.
I’m tired of the boisterous little siblings.
WHY DOES EVERY BOOK HAVE AN ANNOYING LITTLE BROTHER?
And honestly, I’m tired of books about mental health, and all the tropes that go with it.
Yes, it’s vitally important to talk about, to write about, mental health, but when all we’re doing is reusing the same plot with different names and backstories, we aren’t continuing the conversation, we’re just saying the same thing, as a society, over, and over, and over again, each time making it last 250 A5 pages.
Saying that I’m tired of books about mental health isn’t fair, actually, because I’m not. I’m actually writing a book at the moment where mental health is a main focus, so, y’know, I love them. But the recycled plot is boring me, and last night, as I looked at Goodreads, I realised that at least 80% of the books I came across had that plot.
One of the things about We Were Liars, the book I read last night, that I really liked, was that, while I guessed the twist halfway through, there was a twist! And yes, the love story was a little cheesy, but at least it was different to all the other books flooding this genre at the moment.
Although, there were a lot of reasons I didn’t like it much, either.
I love YA, but I think we need some new books.
And maybe some new writers, too.
Don’t get me wrong, I love John Green, Patrick Ness, Jandy Nelson, Jennifer Niven, and all the rest as much as the next bookworm, but the books I’ve enjoyed the most recently are the ones written by younger writers. They write refreshing, new books, with refreshing, new, plots, that are relatable to those of us who are lucky enough to have never suffered because of our minds.
Holly Bourne is one of my favourite writers at the moment – she writes about feminism, and female friendship, and fighting the system. Mental health does feature pretty heavily in some of her books – she has characters who self-harm, characters with OCD, with depression, and yet when I read her, I don’t come away feeling heavy, and weighed down by the big-ness of the issue of mental health and mental health awareness – I come away feeling that, although they’re awful, mental health problems are something that can be fought.
Another writer I love at the moment is Alice Oseman, who writes characters that feel a bit empty, and a bit fed up with school, and sometimes a bit fed up with life, and it’s never made into a massive thing, but it’s a thing that weighs down her characters, just like it weighs down so many people I know.
These writers both have styles that are different to what is so popular at the moment, they have plots and outcomes and reasons that are different, and for me, at least, it’s refreshing. When you have so many people with such similar styles, you begin to forget what book you’re reading.
I’m going to leave you with some recommendations of books that don’t follow that over-used plot, but still fall into the category of Young Adult. Books I love, and hope you will too.
You might not even be much of a reader. If you are, I’m not entirely sure what you’re still doing here, to be honest. But you should try reading. It’s great.
The Manifesto on How to be Interesting by Holly Bourne
The Spinster Club series by Holly Bourne
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
Thirteen Reason Why by Jay Asher
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky
Night Owls by Jenn Bennett
If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
There are so many more than this that I have read and loved and shed tears over, but these are some that immediately jumped out at me when I looked over my bookcase. Some of my absolute favourites.
(Yes, I know that Thirteen Reasons Why is most definitely about mental health – but it’s the structure I’m bored of, not the topic.)
If you have any recommendations of books that you think I’d like, based on this post, then please leave them in the comments – I’d love to hear about the books you love, and maybe add a few to my to-be-read shelf!
Anyway, have a lovely week, and don’t die before you come back.
Lots of love,