The Struggle Is Real: YA Books About Social Anxiety
It’s easy to quip about social anxiety. Wrap it up in a joke about being awkward or uncomfortable around other people, and something which is a real and debilitating mental challenge becomes “relatable” and easy to laugh about. But the reality is: social anxiety can be paralyzing. This is something we can see—and, in some cases experience alongside those who struggle with it—in YA books about social anxiety.
Those who struggle with social anxiety are more than uncomfortable or awkward in social situations. Their bodies become pained, their breathing can become labored, their skin can become covered in goosebumps or sweat, or can feel tight. They may also deal with extreme nausea, headaches, heart palpitations, and other symptoms. These are ways the body protects the mental experience, even though it feels anything but protective.
A diagnosable anxiety disorder, those who struggle with social anxiety generally find relief through the same ways those who struggle with any variety of anxiety disorders may. There are medications, therapies, and other tools to help mitigate the overwhelming experience social situations may bring. Social anxiety, like all mental illnesses, never disappears, but it can be managed.
Find below a selection of YA books about social anxiety. This is, unfortunately, a list that primarily features white characters and authors, in big part because social anxiety is a mental illness that’s not as widely discussed or seen as general anxiety. As noted above, it becomes a punchline, rather than being recognized as real, diagnosable, and challenging. So with such a small selection of books available, so coincides the lack of those by and about characters of color.
But as we continue to push for more representation and inclusivity in children’s literature, we should see this list of YA books about social anxiety include a wider range of experiences, too.
Something interesting worth nothing in the books below: many showcase social anxiety as it plays out with and within a hyperconnected online world. Many of the characters have big online lives—either out in the open or not—and that sort of online life doesn’t translate the same way in their offline world. It’s hard not to consider the ways that social media and the internet have helped connect people who experience social anxiety online which, in turn, has helped this condition become more open offline, too.
Descriptions come from Amazon. Please note that these books are not meant to serve as a means of diagnosing social anxiety disorder. Rather, they’re about those who experience it, opening up opportunities to empathize and better understand what it might be like to live with this mental health challenge. Likewise, because no mental illness plays out identically and every individual experiences social anxiety differently, the representations here may differ from lived experiences of others, because there is no one single way to “get it right.”
YA Books About Social Anxiety
The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
Ruby Oliver is 15 and has a shrink. She knows it’s unusual, but give her a break—she’s had a rough 10 days. In the past 10 days she:
lost her boyfriend (#13 on the list),
lost her best friend (Kim),
lost all her other friends (Nora, Cricket),
did something suspicious with a boy (#10),
did something advanced with a boy (#15),
had an argument with a boy (#14),
drank her first beer (someone handed it to her),
got caught by her mom (ag!),
had a panic attack (scary),
lost a lacrosse game (she’s the goalie),
failed a math test (she’ll make it up),
hurt Meghan’s feelings (even though they aren’t really friends),
became a social outcast (no one to sit with at lunch)
and had graffiti written about her in the girls’ bathroom (who knows what was in the boys’!?!).
But don’t worry—Ruby lives to tell the tale. And make more lists.
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.
In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.
Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.
But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Audrey can’t leave the house. she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house.
Then her brother’s friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again – well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she’d thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.
Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But is ambition alone enough to get her in?
Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same.
How To Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat
Vicky Decker has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight, quietly navigating the halls of her high school undetected except by her best (and only) friend, Jenna. But when Jenna moves away, Vicky’s isolation becomes unbearable.
So she decides to invent a social life by Photoshopping herself into other people’s pictures, posting them on Instagram under the screen name Vicurious. Instantly, she begins to get followers, so she adds herself to more photos from all over the world with all types of people. And as Vicurious’s online followers multiply, Vicky realizes she can make a whole life for herself without ever leaving her bedroom. But the more followers she finds online, the clearer it becomes that there are a lot of people out there who feel like her— #alone and #ignored in real life.
To help them, and herself, Vicky must find the courage to face her fear of being “seen,” because only then can she stop living vicariously and truly bring the magic of Vicurious to life.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.
Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.
A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
A girl who can’t speak and a boy who can’t hear go on a journey of self-discovery and find support with each other in this gripping, emotionally resonant novel from bestselling author Sara Barnard. Perfect for fans of Morgan Matson and Jandy Nelson.
Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life. The condition’s name has always felt ironic to her, because she certainly does not “select” not to speak. In fact, she would give anything to be able to speak as easily and often as everyone around her can. She suffers from crippling anxiety, and uncontrollably, in most situations simply can’t open her mouth to get out the words.
Steffi’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to help him acclimate. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk. As they find ways to communicate, Steffi discovers that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. But as she starts to overcome a lifelong challenge, she’ll soon confront questions about the nature of her own identity and the very essence of what it is to know another person.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
What if you aren’t the Chosen One?
The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.
Solitaire by Alice Oseman
In case you’re wondering, this is not a love story.
My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.
Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.
I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.
I really don’t.
This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up.
Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.
Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, Leila Sales’ This Song Will Save Your Life powerful young adult coming of age novel is an exuberant story about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.
Sparrow by Sarah Moon
Sparrow has always had a difficult time making friends. She would always rather have stayed home on the weekends with her mother, an affluent IT Executive at a Brooklyn bank, reading, or watching the birds, than playing with other kids. And that’s made school a lonely experience for her. It’s made LIFE a lonely experience.
But when the one teacher who really understood her — Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian, a woman who let her eat her lunch in the library office rather than hide in a bathroom stall, a woman who shared her passion for novels and knew just the ones she’d love — is killed in a freak car accident, Sparrow’s world unravels and she’s found on the roof of her school in an apparent suicide attempt.
With the help of an insightful therapist, Sparrow finally reveals the truth of her inner life. And it’s here that she discovers an outlet in Rock & Roll music.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
“Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.
But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.
From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.
If you want more lists of solid books about mental illness, try these teen books about depression, 100 must-read books about mental illness, and these comics that explore mental illness.