I remember the sleepless nights in college when I would not know exactly what was going on with me at the time. It was 2004 and I was pursuing a master’s degree in Communications and Journalism at Florida International University in Miami, and some nights I would have so much energy that it seemed like that research paper would just write itself. My energy would get so heightened, I could go out with friends until 2 a.m. and then wake up at 7 a.m. to work as a professor’s assistant.
Then came the lows when I would cry myself to sleep and barely get out of bed, making me realize that something was off. Yet, busy with the university life, I didn’t think too much of it. Fast-forward to 2008 after my wedding, I started having some serious up and down episodes when I worked as a journalist and editor at The Miami Herald. That’s when I realized I needed to get some serious help.
After an intake with a wonderful doctor who I still see today and some medication, I live a truly balanced life. If I were to say there was one thing besides a strong support system and medication that has gotten me through my bipolar disorder, it has been my love of books filled with relatable characters and scenarios, as well as books that help me escape to a different, and fantastical, world.
With that said, I’m sharing the four young adult books that have gotten me through some manic times and have made me feel a little stronger, a little wiser, and have gotten me through the ups and downs of this disease. I’m hoping they’ll help anyone out there who relates on having down and up days and might just need a little something to pick them up or give them a different perspective.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
In this book, which explores two worlds, everything once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his 18th year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, D.C., she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world. Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back.
Filled with fantastical elements and romance, I loved this book and especially related to Harper, being a strong character facing her own challenging disability. It was also a great escape for moments where my mind needed it most.
With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions, which means doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into magical goodness.
Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet, despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.
I loved the sensory experience of this novel, which had me craving whatever Emoni was cooking. And it also made me feel that despite her challenges, as any challenges that we face in life, we can get through it all successfully if we try our best.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
In this touching story that was also turned into a Netflix film, Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of suicide methods, but every day he also searches for, and manages to find, something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.
In comparison, Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, six stories above the ground, it’s unclear who saves whom. Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them.
In this beautiful story, Finch has bipolar disorder and Violet is the one person that helps him see some light through the darkness at the time. Though it’s also a sad tale, I found this novel to be achingly relatable and realistic, especially for someone like me who also struggles with bipolar disorder. It teaches you about hope and the repercussions of loss.
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maritza and Maika Moulite
In this super funny and meaningful contemporary, Alaine Beauparlant has heard about Haiti all her life. But the stories were always passed down from her dad, and her mom, when she wasn’t too busy with her high-profile newscaster gig. But when Alaine’s life goes a bit on the flip side, it’s time to finally visit Haiti herself.
What she learns about Haiti’s proud history as the world’s first Black republic (with its even prouder people) is one thing, but what she learns about her own family is another. Suddenly, the secrets Alaine’s mom has been keeping, including a family curse that has spanned generations, can no longer be avoided.
It’s a lot to handle, without even mentioning that Alaine is also working for her aunt’s nonprofit, which sends underprivileged kids to school and boasts one annoyingly charming intern. But if anyone can handle all these challenges, it’s Alaine.
Coming from San Juan, Puerto Rico, myself, this book made me feel like I escaped to the Caribbean and Haiti with Alaine, and her strong and at times vulnerable moments made me feel like I can handle whatever is thrown at me in the toughest days. It’s a definitely a cute and realistic at times read that teaches you about family, strength and focus on the future, despite past mistakes.
What other novels have gotten you through tough times or taught you a meaningful lesson? Do you recommend any other reads? Let us know at @BookRiot and me at @AuroraMiami.