Ab(solutely) Normal: Short Stories That Smash Mental Health Stereotypes

Candlewick. Apr. 2023. 336p. ed. by Carpenter, Nora Shalaway & Rocky Callen, eds. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781536224146.
Gr 8 Up–Using mental health as the unifying theme of these short stories is a strong fit as reading for teens, their trusted adults, and community. The 16 short stories, while fictional, were all carefully chosen based on the contributing authors’ own experiences related to mental health challenges either as a lived experience or similar experience that is noted in the introduction by the editors. Authors in this collection were given the autonomy to write the stories in their preferred format, whether it be verse or graphic, with results such as Nikki Grimes’s verse approach to “Avalanche” that are worthy of celebration. In addition, each author wrote a note that appears after their story to share their personal connection. That personal touch gives each story extra weight and strengthens the collection. The recognition of a range of mental health needs from OCD and PTSD are as present as anxiety and rarely discussed premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Viewed as a whole, the stories are paced well, and all give credit to an empathetic reader as the writers share their experiences through fiction. Readers who related to [Don’t] Call Me Crazy, edited by Kelly Jensen, will pick up this title as well.
VERDICT The range of writing styles and techniques employed by notable authors about mental health makes this a strong addition to the shelves.

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