I’m a big fan of the amazing charity The Reading Agency, who do so much to promote and encourage Reading. They now run World Book Night, an event I’ve been shouting about since it first started and now they’ve developed a new amazing concept – Reading Well.
So what is Reading Well?
There are 5 Reading Well booklists which support people to understand and manage their health and wellbeing using helpful reading. Over 3 million Reading Well books have been borrowed from libraries since 2013. Find out about other Reading Well booklists at your local library or visit reading-well.org.uk
Reading Well for teens supports the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers, providing helpful information, advice and support to help them better understand their feelings, handle difficult experiences and boost confidence. The list has been developed as an update to the 2016 Reading Well for Young People (“Shelf Help”) list and is focused on supporting teens’ mental health and wellbeing in a post-pandemic context.
The booklist is targeted at teenagers (13-18) and includes a range of reading levels and formats to support less confident readers and encourage engagement. Some of the recommended books suggest useful self-help techniques; there are also personal stories, graphic formats, and fiction. Alongside the books are a selection of quality assured age-appropriate digital resources. The books have been chosen by young people, leading health professionals and library staff. Our book selection panel included colleagues from Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of Nursing, British Psychological Society, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, NHS England, Mind, Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and the School Library Association.
I was kindly sent two fantastic books from the Reading Well for Teens reading lists: The Year I Didn’t Eat by Samuel Pollen and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I had read A Monster Calls before, ages ago and definitely needed a re-read and I hadn’t read The Year I Didn’t Eat so that was new to me. The reading lists themselves are very accessible and have a huge range of books on lots of different topics that might affect their readers. All of them can be found online, in book shops and most importantly, in your local library and hopefully in a school or college library too.
Fourteen-year-old Max Howarth is living with anorexia. With the help of his therapist and his supportive, but flawed, family, he’s trying his best to maintain his health. But things spiral out of control, and his eating disorder threatens to isolate him from everyone he loves. Beautifully crafted and honestly written, this debut YA novel tells the story of one boy’s year-long journey toward recovery.
In most ways, Max is like any other teenager. He’s dealing with family drama, crushes, and high school-all while trying to have fun, play video games, and explore his hobbies. But Max is also living with anorexia and finds it impossible to be honest with his loved ones-they just don’t understand what he’s going through.
Starting at Christmas, a series of triggering events disrupt Max’s progress toward recovery, sending him down a year-long spiral of self-doubt and dangerous setbacks. With no one to turn to, Max journals his innermost thoughts and feelings, writing to “Ana,” the name he’s given his anorexia. While that helps for a while, Ana’s negative voice grows, amplifying his fears.
When Max gets an unusual present from his older brother, a geocache, it becomes a welcome distraction from his problems. He hides it in the forest near their house and soon gets a message from the mysterious “E.” Although Max is unsure of the secret writer’s identity, they build a bond, and it’s comforting to finally have someone to confide in.As Max’s eating disorder pulls him further away from his family and friends, this connection keeps him going, leading him back to the people who love and support him.
Writing from his own experiences with anorexia, Samuel Pollen’s The Year I Didn’t Eat is a powerful and uplifting story about recovery and the connections that heal us.
My thoughts: while I didn’t have anorexia, I did struggle with a different eating disorder in my late teens and early twenties so Max’s story resonated with me. Based on the author’s own illness, this was powerful and moving and I can totally see why this made the Reading Well booklist.
Eating disorders are increasingly common in young men and teenage boys, as well as still being something many young women struggle with. They’re both a physical and mental illness, and require a holistic approach to treat. They can be really scary and as long as society continues to generate certain body types, they’ll persist.
But The Year I Didn’t Eat offers that most important thing – hope. You can recover, recovery is real and you will be able to be ok again. When you’re in the midst of an eating disorder, or any illness that also impacts you psychologically, it can seem impossible to believe you’ll be well again.
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.
My thoughts: I have been extremely lucky in that I never had to deal with the pain of losing a parent at a young age (both of mine are still here) but I cannot imagine how awful that would be. Having seen some close friends lose theirs even in my twenties, it feels horrific. This incredibly, tremendously moving, powerful and iconic book deserves its place on the Reading Well list for its ability to understand that terrible pain and fear and interpret it for the teen audience. I imagine it to be a wonderfully comforting read if you are dealing with the potential loss of a parent, knowing you’re not alone, that someone does understand, must provide at least a little comfort.
I have to admit I read both books with tissues at my side because they brought back, for me, some of the turmoil of being a teenager and young adult. They made me feel less alone, definitely, despite being published after my teens, and long after I left the expected audience. I really hope lots of people access the Reading Well Reading lists and find something that speaks to them there.
A massive thank you to The Reading Agency and their partner Four Communications for sending me the books and providing the images and some of the text above.