I was going to write a review (or my June book haul which is completely delayed), but I needed to write this first.
I don’t know if it’s just me or something, but a number of books I’ve been reading lately in this year have all revolved around a protagonist with panic attacks or anxiety. And myself being one to have experienced such things, I automatically found them more relatable.
It makes me wonder. What has brought anxiety even to the midst of YA? Is it the fact that we talk more about mental health these days in our society, and are more accepting of it? Is it that we feel it’s no longer such an uncommon thing, that in fact we can relate to each other in our moments of absolute weakness? Or has this always been there, with the same numbers of people facing anxiety issues in our midst, but we are only now realizing it? I discussed this recently with a friend and honestly, it could be any of these or something else entirely.
Regardless of the why, I am thankful for the different books I’ve encountered that highlighted not just a realistic protagonist going through anxiety in her day-to-day life, but also growing from it and through it. I wanted to highlight some of these books today in this post.
If you do not know what it may feel to have panic attacks or have generalized anxiety, I will say that the experience may be different for each person. There are common symptoms, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone goes through the same exact course and consequently deal with it in the same way.
So for the audience here who may not have experienced such a thing, I will give you some of my own experience as a taste of what it may feel like (although it most definitely is not the same for everyone) so that you can understand why the following books meant something to me. If the following may be uncomfortable for you to read, feel free to skip it to look at the books.
It starts with a tingling sensation in my legs, from the very tips of my toes. Or sometimes, it may start off with a hitch in my breath, and a sense of foreboding that something oh so wrong is about to crash over me like a wave. Or the worst kind, it starts with the beat of my heart.
It picks up. My heart pounds faster. My brain tells it to stop. What’s there to be causing such a reaction? My breathing gets faster. Something is wrong. Of course, something is wrong. The tingles in my legs are similar to the ones in my arms and hands now. Can I grip anything? Why won’t it stop shaking? Nothing I do is making a difference! When will it be over? Is it ever going to stop? Is it ever going to stop?
People are staring. Or are they not? Do I even want them to? If they do notice, no one is doing anything about it. Is this all just in my head? But why can’t I make it stop then?
And as my heart pumps, pumps, pumps, I wonder if this is what dying would feel like. And I wonder if it would feel this lonely. Even in the midst of strangers.
I close my eyes, and I wait it out. And hope that there is an end.
This was what I felt during my first panic attack. I read maybe one book before this occurred on a character with anxiety. I didn’t fully understand it. I didn’t fully appreciate the growth, the portrayal of strength in the midst of such a personal struggle. I will admit that not every author may go about this issue in the same way, and I will respect if others’ experiences make them feel differently about how they’re portrayed in YA or the following books. However, no matter what we may or may not agree on with the particulars, I hope most people can agree with me that I am grateful these authors put a spotlight on something like this in any way in their writing. They don’t have to. And to do it well and right may require so much more effort that isn’t necessary if they didn’t want to do it.
- All Things New by Lauren Miller
This whole novel focused on mental health and put it almost into a philosophical spin. I absolutely adored that. I know it’s not out yet in stores, but I fervently hope that you do pick up a copy when it comes out the beginning of August.
This protagonist faces a completely different level of anxiety than I do, but it doesn’t make her story any less poignant to me. We are all broken in some ways, some more visible than others. This novel showed how we can face these things, not necessarily on our own, but finding it in a community of people we feel we can trust. Whether it be from a physical support group to go to, or the people placed in our lives that we’re blessed to have found, this story stirred something in my heart to respond in the same way.
2. By Your Side by Kasie West
One of my earlier reads of the year (although technically in the 2016 count), I really appreciated Kasie West tackling this subject. I’ve always loved her writing, but this book was different as it was just a light contemporary novel I breezed through like her others.
The protagonist in this book starts off really facing her fears. She gets left behind in a library all alone, with all those who supposedly care about her having forgotten she wasn’t with them anymore. I don’t know about others, but I relate to the fact that being alone with oncoming attacks is sometimes worse than facing a room of strangers or even friends watching me embarrass myself. And being left behind adds to the anxiety of being alone even when there are people around. I like how this book does develop the protagonist’s character, and her choice to admit to someone close to her know that she isn’t always all right. And that it’s okay.
3. Crash into You by Katie McGarry
Surprisingly, this book features anxiety too. I love the way Katie McGarry can make situations and people feel so real that you’re practically living it with them. Likewise, I really enjoyed this protagonist.
The main character wasn’t always seen as strong. It didn’t help that she had older brothers and protective parents. But it made opening up about her fears so much harder. Although it wasn’t nearly as hard to admit to my family and close loved ones about being less than okay, it’s still not an easy journey. Not everyone understands what you face, and why. They may think similarly to how this girl’s family did – trying to pretend that everything was okay and ignoring the little signs that showed that in fact, nothing was getting any better. The journey this protagonist takes for herself, regardless of the romance featured, made this an easy read through one sitting. I wished I could have such strength in myself.
4. Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno
This isn’t a book I have technically reviewed yet. But that’s because I’m currently going through this novel. Although I haven’t read anything from this author before, I find her take on this girl’s journey to learning to live life with a different perspective something that resounds in me. I will write more on this later, but it doesn’t focus so harshly on anxiety so much as showcases that strength comes from within. I can’t wait to see what else the novel has in store, but having anxiety on the back burner isn’t necessarily shoving it away from the spotlight. It’s another way I appreciate the subtle nod to those who understand, and the real, reflective amount of personal growth it sometimes takes to face it head on.
5. I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski
Also a book that hasn’t been reviewed yet on this blog, but it’s coming soon, no worries! Recently released this week in your local bookstores, this novel seems like it’s all fun and cute romance, but surprisingly, holds a main character that deals with some anxiety herself. Although I didn’t relate to every aspect of this character, as I will mention in a full review, I think what stood out to me was her will to face the fear straight on. We can hide all we want, wishing another one would never hit us, or we can live our lives and hold on. Personal challenges may be the best way to help us face incoming attacks. I’m not saying conquer, but at least face. And as a friend said to me, simply facing it is sometimes enough. That in itself is strength, not weakness.
So, I’ve held up like way too much of your time. Whether you fully understand or not, I hope this at least made you pause and think huh, never thought of it quite this way before. I may not have said it all that well, so go and read the books! And if any of you do understand this feeling, I hope you know you’re not alone in it.