Realistic Fiction

Middle Grade Books That Tackle Mental Illness

Kids who crave realistic fiction where main characters struggle with dysfunctional family problems will love these selections. Each of the characters are wise beyond their years and step up to the plate to help their parents.

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin


Della’s family owns a watermelon farm in North Carolina. It’s been a hot summer and it’s affecting the crop. Then Della’s mom begins to show signs of a Schizophrenia relapse. Her dad is a loving husband, but doesn’t talk much about the problem. Della begins to blame herself and thinks that if she can only be a better daughter her mother will return to normal.

So B. It by Sarah Weeks


Heidi knows very little about her past. She knows she showed up on Bernadette’s doorstep with her mentally handicapped mother as a newborn. Bernadette has agoraphobia, but somehow manages to take care of them. Using the clues on a roll of film, Heidi purchases a bus ticket to New York where she hopes to find out who her mother is.

Chasing the Milky Way by Erin Moulton


Lucy’s mother is manic-depressive. Once a college professor, now she is barely capable of taking care of her daughters. Lucy is determined that her future will not include a trailer park. She enters a robotics competition to win financial aid for college, but her mother’s highly erratic behavior almost derails the whole thing.

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller


Natalie can’t focus on her science project when her scientist mother rarely leaves her bedroom and her therapist father doesn’t know what to say. When her teacher suggests she enter the egg drop competition, Natalie joins up with her brainiac classmate and best friend to design a protective casing for an egg dropped from two-stories. Saving the egg proves no easier than saving her mom.

Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington


School has never been easy for Mysti. It’s hard to fit in when your mother won’t leave the house. Her dad always took care of everything, but now he’s in the hospital and food is running low. Topping it off, her best friend has decided to do a social experiment at school which requires him to ignore her around his other friends.

Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Hackl


Cricket has a lot on her plate. Her grandmother died. Then her mother relapsed into mental illness. Then her dad died. But she’s one tough cookie. When her aunt leaves her behind at the grocery store, Cricket “borrows” some supplies and hikes out to the treehouse her dad built near an abandoned town. She intends to solve a mystery from her mom’s childhood and meet her on March 1 at her grandmother’s grave.

It’s Raining Cupcakes by Lisa Schroeder


Isabel has never been anywhere but Willow, Oregon. Her dream is to travel. Her mother’s dream is to open a cupcake business. When the opportunity presents itself, her mother goes into it with gusto, then true to form, her mental illness threatens to derail it. Though Isabel is not into baking, she will do anything to get out of Willow, including entering a baking competition with a paid trip to New York.

Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson


Jack wakes up in a Maine campground to find that his mother has abandoned him. He sets out with his sleeping bag and a little money to make the long trip back to Boston. At every turn he must make decisions about where he will get food and where he’ll eat. But his priority is making sure no one realizes he’s on his own, so he won’t be taken from his mother who suffers from a mental illness.

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie


Guinevere’s mother suffered brain damage when Gwen was 4-years-old. Since then she can’t remember anything that happened after age 13. Her dad moves them back to their hometown in the hopes that it will jog her mother’s memory. Gwen gets more than she bargained for in the form of her parent’s childhood friend Gaysie who is eccentric to say the least.

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