Review: It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini


In memory of Ned Vizzini.  

title:  It's Kind of a Funny Story

author:  Ned Vizzini

pages: 444

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0786851973

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.  Lost souls.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes. 
will i continue the series?:  N/A

My Ratings Explained

Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life-which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job-Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That's when things start to get crazy.

At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn't brilliant compared to the other kids; he's just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping-until, one night, he nearly kills himself.

Craig's suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.

Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness. For a novel about depression, it's definitely a funny story.

take home message
A raw, emotional take on one boy's decision to die, and in that darkest moment, the discovery of a will to live.   

the basics
I've wanted to read this book for a long time.  Mental Health Awareness Month seemed like the perfect time, given Vizzini's own battle with depression and death from suicide.  If you've ever met depression, this book is an uncomfortable deja vu, like remembering your own thoughts.  Vizzini perfectly captures the shame, the guilt, and the dizzying suffocation of depression.  Craig is America's overworked uber-teen.  His life is his elite school.  His friends are tiny narcissists.  And when he snaps from all the pressure, he wants to take his own life.  Only instead, he checks himself in to the psychiatric ER.  The people he meets there are quirky, yet authentic representations of shattered minds.  Not violent criminals.  Not screaming loons.  Sad, worn people.  Stuck-in-their-head people.  Scarred people.  People who still enjoy a good game of cards and who thrive on small accomplishments.  People for whom life is chains.  Craig's interactions with his fellow patients are touching and darkly humorous, with liberal helpings of teenage boy hormones and revelatory moments.  Perhaps the ending is a little candy-coated, but it's not a promise of perfection: only hope.  

plot . 4/5
It's a literary sort of plot.  Not that it's dull or slow, but it's very much focused on characters and ideas rather than big huge events.  Except for the big huge event that owns the first part of the book, Craig's dark night.  But Vizzini actually starts before that, setting the stage for Craig's breakdown with the end of Craig's good days and the events leading to the bad day: self-absorbed friends, struggles at school, strings tightening.  Then there's life in the hospital.  You lose track of days in those pages, and I think it's intentional.  It's a blur of pre-packaged meals and day room card games and art therapy.  It's senseless conversations and Atavan.  This is also about a teenage boy, which means that sex (and romances) is a huge topic, with Craig navigating his relationships with the sexy ambivalent Nia and the enigmatic Noelle.  I think a lot of people disliked how shallow these relationships were, but that's kind of the point.  This is a teenage boy.  He's pumped up on testosterone.  He's depressed and self-focused.  These aren't future wives; just people to make connections with, good and bad.  So the ending is meant not as a resolution, but as hope.  A shard of sunlight out of something dark.  

concept . 5/5
There are too many melodramatic, scandalous accounts of mental hospital stays.  Chains and shock treatments and abusive nurses and schizophrenics screaming bloody murder.  Then there's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which is excellent but unfortunately dated--and doubly unfortunately, the only template most people have for mental institutions.  Vizzini's account is realistic.  (Not surprising, given it's basis in his own experience.)  There isn't glitz.  There's meal trays and smoke breaks.  There are people trying to get a handle on the world.  Craig's depression is also textbook--not in the sense of being dull, of course.  It's just real.  It's the undramatic sinking into apathy, the sadness with a veneer of self-absorption.  To me, it's so much more poignant than the dramatic version. 

characters . 4/5
Like John Green after him, Vizzini has a flair for the quirky.  These are slight caricatures of people, almost-real people with a bit of flavor.  Craig himself is both endearing and annoying, as depressed people can be.  It's an unfortunately selfish disease, which makes its sufferers so isolated.  Craig is too smart, too anal, too sex-obsessed, but also sweet and a little naive.  His parents are hopelessly helpful.  His friends are hormones with bodies.  The people in the hospital are, ironically, the most alive.  Jimmy, the man who sees numbers in his head.  The President with his rules.  The sad man from Egypt who wishes for music.  Charles/Jennifer.  Noelle, scarred from a hope to hide herself.  They all have stories but in the hospital, they're card players, artists, and leaders.  Each is drawn up with such earnestness that I loved each one.  

style . 5/5
If you love John Green, you'll adore Vizzini.  (After all, who do you think came first?)  His style is sardonic and raw.  It feels like being in the head of a teenage boy.  Sadness.  Sex.  Art.  Confusion.  Sex.  There's a lot of punchy description and bantery dialogue.  The dialogue is my favorite; it's something you could have overheard on the bus or at the next lunch table.  

mechanics . 5/5
There's not much to complain about.  It's a tightly written book.  There aren't a lot of loose ends flapping about.  The pacing is quick, the writing polished.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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