Spaces to Thrive: Book List


 A Curious Mind, Little & Lion, Hunger, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The books listed below were selected as part of Spaces to Thrive, a partnership between the Mayor's Office of Community Mental Health and The New York Public Library.

These books include both fiction and nonfiction, and can be used as a starting point to talk about mental health. They offer an empathetic look at the challenges of living with mental illness.

Recommended Memoirs

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (e-book) by Kay Redfield Jamison   

The personal story of a manic depressive and an authority on the subject describes the onset of the illness during her teenage years and her determined journey through the realm of available treatments.

Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival by Christopher Lukas 


Written with heartrending honesty, Blue Genes captures the devastation of this family legacy of depression and details the strength and hope that can provide a way of escaping its grasp.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (audiobook) by Susannah Cahalan 


An account of the author's struggle with a rare brain-attacking autoimmune disease traces how she woke up in a hospital room with no memory of baffling psychotic symptoms, describing the last-minute intervention by a doctor who identified the source of her illness.

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (audiobook) by William Styron 

The author chronicles his personal journey within the depression's psychic landscape, as well as offers readers an illuminating path to recovery.

Girl, Interrupted (e-book) by Susanna Kaysen


In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele--Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles--as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. Kaysen's memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (audiobook, e-book) by Roxane Gay 


A memoir exploring the tensions between self-comfort and self-care, while addressing shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health.

I'm Telling the Truth, But I'm Lying:Essays (e-book) (audiobook) by Bassey Ikpi


I'm Telling the Truth, But I'm Lying: Essays by Bassey Ikpi explores her life--as a Nigerian-American immigrant, a black woman, a slam poet, a mother, a daughter, an artist--through the lens of her mental health and diagnosis of bipolar II and anxiety. Her remarkable memoir in essays implodes our preconceptions of the mind and normalcy as Bassey bares her own truths and lies for us all to behold with radical honesty and brutal intimacy

Lit: A Memoir (e-book, audiobook) by Mary Karr


The author reveals how, shortly after giving birth to a child she adored, she drank herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide before a spiritual awakening led her to sobriety.

Manic: A Memoir  (e-book) by Terri Cheney


A personal account of life with bipolar disorder documents the author's experience with the condition's extreme highs and lows, in a memoir that also traces her therapies and the disease's impact on her relationships.

Lucky  (audiobook) by Alice Sebold 

In a memoir hailed for its searing candor, as well as its wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was sexually assaulted and beaten in a park near campus.

Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl  (e-book) by Stacy Pershall 

Set in a small city in Arkansas, the author chronicles her adolescence and personal journey with bipolar and borderline personality disorders. 

Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America (e-book) by Elizabeth Wurtzel 

Prozac Nation describes the author's experiences with atypical depression, her own character failings and how she managed to live through particularly difficult periods while completing college and working as a writer.

Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia (e-book) by Marya Hornbacher 


In this vivid, emotionally wrenching memoir, the author re-creates the experience and illuminates the tangle of personal, family and cultural causes that underlie eating disorders. Marya Hornbacher sustained both anorexia and bulimia through five lengthy hospitalizations, endless therapy, the loss of family, friends, jobs and, ultimately, any sense of what it meant to be "normal." 

Recommended Non-Fiction


A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life (audiobook, e-book) by Brian Grazer   

For decades, Brian Grazer has scheduled a weekly "curiosity conversation" with an accomplished stranger. Working with journalist Charlie Fishman, Grazer offers a window into the conversations that inspired some of America's favorite movies and television, from 24 to A Beautiful Mind. A Curious Mind is a fascinating and inspiring homage to the power of inquisitiveness and the ways in which it deepens and improves us.

American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System by E. Fuller Torrey 

The author provides an inside perspective on the birth of the federal mental health program. On staff at the National Institute of Mental Health when the program was being developed and implemented, Torrey draws on his own first-hand account of the creation and launch of the program, extensive research, one-on-one interviews with people involved, and recently unearthed audiotapes of interviews with major figures involved in the legislation. 

Asian Americans: Personality Patterns, Identity, and Mental Health by Laura Uba 

This book provides a comprehensive coverage available on the full range of contemporary issues facing Asian Americans with respect to personality, ethnic identity, and mental health.

Bedlam : An Intimate Journey into America's Mental Health Crisis (e-book) by Kenneth Paul Rosenberg

Dr. Rosenberg gives readers an inside look at the historical, political, and economic forces that have resulted in the greatest social crisis of the twenty-first century. The largest mental institution in the United States is the Los Angeles County Jail, and the last refuge for many of the 20,000 mentally ill people living on the streets of Los Angeles is L.A. County Hospital.

Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (audiobook) by Gretchen Rubin 

Ruben shares information about habit formation, along with strategies for breaking habits that are counterproductive and for forming good habits that enhance the quality of life and help in the attainment of life goals.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (audiobook, e-book) by Elizabeth Gilbert 


The author details her personal generative process to counsel readers on how to let go of needless suffering while learning to understand the mysterious nature of inspiration and creativity.

Body Intelligence: Harness Your Body's Energies for Your Best Life by Joseph Cardillo 


The author provides interactive tools for beginners and experienced energy-balancing practitioners alike to improve and understand the specific energy needed to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling life.

Brave Enough (e-book) by Cheryl Strayed 

The bestselling author of Wild and Dear Sugar is back with a collection of inspirational quotes drawn from her writing.

Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America's Premier Mental Hospital by Alex Beam 


Traces the history of New England's McLean Hospital, looking at how the mental institution which once played gracious host to the rich and famous, has had to adapt to the modern era of psychopharmacologically-oriented mental health care.


In and Out of Our Right Minds: The Mental Health of African American Women by Diane R. Brown & Verna M. Keith (eds.) 


Using the contexts of race, gender, and social class, In and Out of Our Right Minds challenges the traditional notions of mental health and mental illness as they apply to African American women.

Insane: America's Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness (audiobook) by Alisa Roth 

America has made mental illness a crime. Jails in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago each house more people with mental illnesses than any hospital. As many as half of all people in America's jails and prisons have a psychiatric disorder. Through intimate stories of people in the system and those trying to fix it.

Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans by Alvin F. Poussaint and Amy Alexander


Beginning with a concise analysis of the often troubled relationship between African-Americans and a white medical establishment, Poussaint and Alexander trace the cultural factors that inhibit Blacks from seeking any type of medical treatment, let alone the much stigmatized mental health care, and the lack of a concerted response by white health care professionals. 

Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill by Robert Whitaker

Schizophrenics in the United States currently fare worse than patients in the world's poorest countries. In Mad in America, medical journalist Robert Whitaker argues that modern treatments for the severely mentally ill are just old medicine in new bottles, and that we as a society are deeply deluded about their efficacy.

My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind (audiobook, e-book) by Scott Stossel 

The author recounts his lifelong battle with anxiety, showing the many manifestations of the disorder as well as the countless treatments that have been developed to counteract it, and provides a history of the efforts to understand this common form of mental illness.

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang

The Collected Schizophrenias dispels misconceptions and provides insight into a condition long misunderstood.

The Man Who Couldn't Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought by David Adam 


Drawing on the latest research on the brain as well as historical accounts of patients and their treatments, an accomplished science writer shares his 20-year battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and his unflinchingly honest attempt to understand the condition and his experiences. 

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (e-book) by Oliver Sacks 

The author tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (audiobook) by Andrew Solomon 

The author offers a look at depression in which he draws on his own battle with the illness and interviews with fellow sufferers, researchers, doctors, and others to assess the complexities of the disease, its causes and symptoms, and available therapies.

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (audiobook, e-book) by Jon Ronson 

Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry. An influential psychologist who is convinced that many important CEOs and politicians are, in fact, psychopaths teaches Ronson how to spot these high-flying individuals by looking out for little telltale verbal and nonverbal clues.

The Road to Character (audiobook, e-book) by David Brooks


David Brooks investigates America’s transition to a culture that values self-promotion over humility, explaining the importance of an engaged inner life in personal fulfillment.


The Savage God: A Study of Suicide by A. Alvarez 


The author explores suicide and attitudes toward self-destruction from historical and literary perspectives.



Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression by Nell Casey (ed.)  

Unholy Ghost is a unique collection of essays about depression and allows the bewildering experience of depression to be adequately and beautifully rendered. The twenty-two stories that make up this book will offer solace and enlightenment to all readers.

Recommended Young Adult Fiction 


All Our Broken Pieces (e-book) by L.D. Crichton   

Musically gifted seventeen-year-old Kyler and his new neighbor Lennon, who is crippled by her OCD, discover that the strength to survive, live, and love can be found in unexpected places.

All The Bright Places (audiobook, e-book) by Jennifer Niven 

Meeting on the ledge of their school's bell tower, misfit Theodore Finch and suicidal Violet Markey find acceptance and healing that are overshadowed by Finch's fears about Violet's growing social world.

Challenger Deep (audiobook, e-book) by Neal Shusterman

A brilliant but troubled high school student pretends to engage in sports activities and uses his artistic talents to document his voyage to the world's most southern point while his friends observe his increasingly unbalanced behavior. 

Darius the Great Is Not Okay (audiobook, e-book) by Adib Khorram 


Clinically-depressed Darius Kellner, a high school sophomore, travels to Iran to meet his grandparents, but it is their next-door neighbor, Sohrab, who changes his life.

Little & Lion  (audiobook, e-book) by Brandy Colbert 


Returning home to Los Angeles from boarding school, Suzette grapples with her bisexuality when she and her brother Lionel fall in love with the same girl.

Optimists Die First (audiobook, e-book) by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund 


Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde shuts herself off from the world after a family tragedy. The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class with a small group of fellow misfits. Then a new boy, Jacob, appears at school and in her therapy group. He seems so normal and confident, though he has a prosthetic arm; and soon he teams up with Petula on a hilarious project, gradually inspiring her to let go of some of her fears.

Ordinary People (audiobook) by Judith Guest 


Seventeen-year-old Conrad Jarrett returns to his parents' home and tries to build a new life for himself after spending eight months in a mental institution for attempted suicide.

The Bell Jar (audiobook, e-book) by Sylvia Plath 

Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

When We Collided (e-book) by Emery Lord


Seventeen year-old Jonah Daniels has lived in Verona Cove, California, his whole life, and only one thing has ever changed: his father used to be alive, and now he is not. With a mother lost in a deep bout of depression, Jonah and his five siblings struggle to keep up their home and the restaurant their dad left behind. But at the start of summer, a second change rolls in: Vivi Alexander, the new girl in town.

Recommended Fiction


Everything Here Is Beautiful (e-book, audiobook) by Mira T. Lee

Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its heart, an immigrant story, and a young woman’s quest to find fulfillment and a life unconstrained by her illness. But it’s also an unforgettable, gut-wrenching story of the sacrifices we make to truly love someone; and when loyalty to one’s self must prevail over all.

Freshwater (e-book, audiobook) by Akwaeke Emezi

Traces the experiences of a deeply troubled young woman who alarms her devout Nigerian family as she succumbs to multiple personality disorder and begins to display increasingly dark and dangerous traits in accordance with her fractured personalities.

Lowboy  (e-book) by John Wray 

Possessing paranoid schizophrenic beliefs that he can save the planet from climate change by cooling down his own overheated body, 16-year-old New York youth Will Heller pursues a terrifying and delusional odyssey through the city's tunnels and back alleys while his frantic mother attempts to find him.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (audiobook) by Ken Kesey 


The author offers an unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy’s heroic attempt to do battle with the awesome powers that keep them all imprisoned.

She's Come Undone (audiobook) by Wally Lamb 


Eating herself into obesity in the wake of her lost childhood and over-anxious mother, Dolores Price finds herself facing adulthood in a cruel world and resolves to rise to the occasion

The Marriage Plot (audiobook) by Jeffrey Eugenides 


Madeleine Hanna breaks out of her straight-and-narrow mold when she falls in love with charismatic loner Leonard Bankhead, while at the same time an old friend of hers resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is his destiny.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham 


In a novel of love, family inheritance, and desperation, the author offers a fictional account of Virginia Woolf's last days and her friendship with a poet living in his mother's shadow





Learn more about Spaces to Thrive and free mental health programming at the Library: