Books have always been impor­tant to me. As a kid, I was sick all the time. What to do when wait­ing for the next doc­tor? Read, of course. I taught myself to read at a very ear­ly age, despite hav­ing dyslex­ia, and I read every­thing I could get my hands on — from fun­ny, to sin­cere, to ter­ri­fy­ing true stories.

It’s been famous­ly said that books should be both win­dows and doors. It should be no dif­fer­ent for Jew­ish kids, but grow­ing up there weren’t many books about kids like me; kids who were Jew­ish and lived in a large­ly non-Jew­ish area; kids who felt very dif­fer­ent when they missed class­es for the Jew­ish hol­i­days or for a bat mitz­vah; kids who ques­tioned if they were Jew­ish enough; kids with invis­i­ble dis­abil­i­ties. What I wouldn’t have giv­en to have a col­lec­tion of books that reflect­ed my own expe­ri­ences, or were aspi­ra­tional in terms of my life and the way I identify.

Luck­i­ly this is no longer true. Con­sid­er these recent­ly pub­lished young adult books writ­ten about Jew­ish char­ac­ters with dis­abil­i­ties, and those strug­gling with men­tal health. With any curat­ed list there are inevitably great books that are left off. To those books and their authors, I apol­o­gize. To read­ers, I offer this as a jump­ing-off point.

Sick Kids in Love by Han­nah Moskowitz is an authen­tic and mov­ing look at two kids who are strug­gling with chron­ic ill­ness and chron­ic pain. The main char­ac­ter, Isabel, has rheuma­toid arthri­tis, a moth­er who left her, and an iron clad no dat­ing rule. She tries to live life with­out let­ting her col­lege RA get in the way. She vol­un­teers at the hos­pi­tal once a week, she writes a col­umn in the school’s news­pa­per, she hangs out with her friends who don’t have dis­abil­i­ties — keep­ing up with all of their antics regard­less of how much it costs her phys­i­cal­ly. She doesn’t let her­self slow down. Not until she meets Sasha, a boy who is also sick. He has gauch­er dis­ease so he under­stands her world of chron­ic pain. The romance is beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten. The mes­sages are clear — self-care is just as impor­tant as not giv­ing up on your­self. This book will change your out­look and under­stand­ing of those with invis­i­ble dis­abil­i­ties if you do not live with one your­self. If you do, I hope you find your­self rep­re­sent­ed in these beau­ti­ful pages.

You asked for Per­fect by Lau­ra Sil­ver­man is about Ariel, a per­fec­tion­ist liv­ing in a high per­form­ing fam­i­ly. He is expect­ed to be vale­dic­to­ri­an, is the first chair for vio­lin in the school orches­tra, vol­un­teers at a local pet shel­ter, and has been accept­ed to Har­vard. But it all starts slip­ping away when he fails a Cal­cu­lus quiz. Strug­gling with his need to be per­fect, Ariel push­es him­self even hard­er. He gets a tutor — Amir, a boy in his Cal­cu­lus class — who also becomes the sub­ject of Ariel’s crush. This isn’t the time for Ariel to add a rela­tion­ship to his already over­loaded sched­ule, but how can he resist? This book is a real­is­tic look into the pres­sure per­fec­tion­ists put on them­selves. It apt­ly demon­strates that it can cause severe anx­i­ety, ill­ness, and lead to oth­er issues. The fam­i­ly and friends are por­trayed in real and charm­ing ways, and there is good Jew­ish rep­re­sen­ta­tion through­out. We put too much pres­sure on high achiev­ing kids and this is a truth­ful look at how dan­ger­ous that can be.

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum is about David, a boy who is on the autism spec­trum. On the advice of his high­ly pop­u­lar and ador­ing old­er sis­ter, Lau­ren, who is now off to col­lege, he starts a note­book where he keeps rules to live by; rules about his class­mates; who to trust, who not to trust; notes about the stu­dents around him — the ones who do not include him — espe­cial­ly at lunch where he sits alone every day. Until one day Kit Low­ell sits next to him. She is seek­ing refuge from her friends who don’t under­stand how expan­sive her grief is after her father’s death in a trag­ic car acci­dent. David is usu­al­ly qui­et, so his lunch table feels like a safe place for her to land. As the days go by, her need for answers as to why her father died leads her to ask David for help. For his part, he’s thrilled to have Kit join him, no mat­ter the rea­son. Plus he loves puz­zles. As they try to fig­ure out the exact cause of Kit’s father’s acci­dent, he starts to count on their inter­ac­tions; she starts to real­ize how inter­est­ing he is and how much his hon­esty means to her. This slow burn romance is worth the wait.

My own book, It’s My Life, is the sto­ry of a Jew­ish girl with cere­bral pal­sy. Jen­na Cohen has always accept­ed her CP with­out ques­tion. She was Daddy’s lit­tle war­rior, doing her ther­a­pies, work­ing her hard­est, try­ing her best. That changes when she dis­cov­ers that her con­di­tion was caused by med­ical malfea­sance. How could her par­ents have kept this from her? Angry and hurt, she with­draws from the most chal­leng­ing things in her life — ditch­es her AP class­es for gen­er­al edu­ca­tion ones. She miss­es her friends and also the con­tent, but not enough to return to them. Why not give her­self a break, after years of work­ing hard? Even if it’s a knee jerk reaction.

Enter Julian, her crush since Kinder­garten, who moves back to town. He’s a hock­ey play­er — beau­ti­ful and fun, but strug­gling aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly. Julian has dyslex­ia and Jen­na feels like she can help him, espe­cial­ly since they are now in the same Eng­lish class. She writes to him anony­mous­ly, chan­nel­ing her fan­ta­sy per­sona — the ver­sion of her­self that she could have been had she not had this dis­abil­i­ty. The more she texts Julian, the more she feels like she’s falling for him, but she’s plagued by the ques­tion of will he still want her when he real­izes who she is? This book, at its core, is about how help­ing oth­ers some­times reminds you to help yourself.

Sta­cie Ramey learned to read at a very ear­ly age to escape the end­less tor­ment­ing from her old­er sib­lings. She attend­ed the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da where she majored in com­mu­ni­ca­tion sci­ences and Penn State where she received a Mas­ter of Sci­ence degree in Speech Pathol­o­gy. When she’s not writ­ing, she engages in Net­flix wars with her chil­dren or beats her hus­band in Scrab­ble. She lives in Welling­ton, Flori­da with her hus­band, three chil­dren, and two res­cue dogs.