Children of single parents with mental health issues are often particularly complex protagonists – they have to grow up ahead of time, shouldering adult responsibilities and deceiving concerned authorities for fear of letting down their parents or losing them altogether. The fiction in which they feature isn't solely gritty, “issue”-focused and realistic, however – Philip Pullman's Will Parry, wielder of the Subtle Knife, is adult, reserved and watchful partly because he's been tending his mother, who suffers from justified but crippling paranoia, since his father's long-ago disappearance. Similarly, Charlie, the heroine of Ellen Renner's enthralling alternate history Castle of Shadows, has developed a fascinating streak of self-reliant meanness because her father the King, deserted by her mother, has abdicated mentally to huddle in a tower like a Gormenghastly owl, building palaces out of playing cards. Overall, though, it's a subject probably most associated with authors bedded firmly in contemporary realism, such as Jacqueline Wilson.
Suffering from bipolar disorder myself, I would not, if I had my time again, have read Wilson's The Illustrated Mum while gravidly tank-sized and hormonally obsessed with the worst-case scenario. Marigold, the variegated mother of Wilson's award-winning title, is in many ways an amazing parent – dazzlingly creative, uninhibitedly joyous, constantly sidetracked by new ideas. The effect of her untreated manic depression on her daughters, though, is cataclysmic; she's breathtakingly selfish, has no grasp of the future, evaporates the family finances on a regular basis and is tattooed over every spare inch in impulsive, intricate designs which drive her daughters to despair. Star, the elder, many-times-bitten, is unsurprisingly now shy of everything Marigold offers, wanting only a settled, school-uniform sort of life with her father; the younger daughter, Dolphin, tries with desperate optimism to forge a happy family unit from angry sister and volatile mum. It's difficult, upsetting, and compulsive reading.