Graduate Program


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion

Spring 2018

Thesis Director

Jamila D. Smith

Thesis Committee Member

Fern Kory

Thesis Committee Member

Melissa Ames


This thesis highlights the need for addressing mental health in secondary school settings and argues that high school English educators can help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness using young adult (YA) literature. I discuss the benefits of using YA literature in the secondary English classroom and why YA literature is an effective tool for introducing timely topics like mental health. I analyze the limitations of popular YA novels such as Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why and Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places and argue that the mental health representation in these novels hinders students' ability to challenge the current stereotypes and stigma surrounding mental health. To address these limitations, I argue that teachers should use the principles of social justice and culturally relevant pedagogy when evaluating YA texts about mental health. To demonstrate this evaluation, I examine a more positive and accurate representation of mental health in Emery Lord's When We Collided. I also discuss the lack of diverse and inclusive representation in books that approach the subject of mental health, specifically focusing on the underrepresentation of students of color and students of low socioeconomic status. Through the discussion of diverse texts such as Erika Sanchez's I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Matthew Quick's Boy21, I examine the importance of diverse and inclusive representation in YA literature about mental health. Finally, I offer practical ways educators can teach these texts and help students meet the objectives of social justice learning and culturally relevant pedagogy. I maintain that through this type of learning, students will not only have a better chance for academic success but will also have the skills necessary to act against the current social inequities regarding mental health. This culturally relevant approach enables English educators to confront mental health in a way that accounts for and reaches all students.