Review: “Ab(solutely) Normal: Short Stories That Smash Mental Health Stereotypes” edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter & Rocky Callen

Release Date: April 11, 2023
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Young Adult, Anthologies


Channeling their own experiences, sixteen exceptional authors subvert mental health stereotypes in a powerful and uplifting collection of fiction.

A teen activist wrestles with protest-related anxiety and PTSD. A socially anxious vampire learns he has to save his town by (gulp) working with people. As part of her teshuvah, a girl writes letters to the ex-boyfriend she still loves, revealing that her struggle with angry outbursts is related to PMDD. A boy sheds uncontrollable tears but finds that in doing so he’s helping to enable another’s healing. In this inspiring, unflinching, and hope-filled mixed-genre collection, sixteen diverse and notable authors draw on their own lived experiences with mental health conditions to create stunning works of fiction that will uplift and empower you, break your heart and stitch it back together stronger than before. Through powerful prose, verse, and graphics, the characters in this anthology defy stereotypes as they remind readers that living with a mental health condition doesn’t mean that you’re defined by it. Each story is followed by a note from its author to the reader, and comprehensive back matter includes bios for the contributors as well as a collection of relevant resources.

With contributions by:

Mercedes Acosta * Karen Jialu Bao * James Bird * Rocky Callen * Nora Shalaway Carpenter * Alechia Dow * Patrick Downes * Anna Drury * Nikki Grimes * Val Howlett * Jonathan Lenore Kastin * Sonia Patel * Marcella Pixley * Isabel Quintero * Ebony Stewart * Francisco X. Stork

My Thoughts

Ab(solutely) Normal offers sixteen young adult short stories, poems, and even a comic on a variety of mental health challenges such as anxiety, PTSD, grief, etc. Some stories are literary/contemporary, others are speculative, but there should be a little something for everyone. The authors and characters are equally as diverse, with experiences of teens with marginalized identities taking center stage. 

This would be a good anthology to explore for a high school Human Development class or for a teen book club. The range of formats, topics, identities, and stories offer a countless entry points for teen readers to engage with the content.

Available through (affiliate link)

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