Whenever I get close to finishing a book for review, I like to do a little research on its author. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Ned Vizzini, the brilliant author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, died almost four years ago from suicide. A heavy sadness now rests on my heart. I gained a lot from reading this book. As a therapist, I understood its difficult subject matter of the ways mental illness impacts our world. As a human being who has dealt with depression himself, I appreciated its sad but life-affirming reflections.
This book is based on the five days that Vizzini stayed in an adult psychiatric hospital. He began writing It’s Kind of a Funny Story the following week. It took him just under one month to complete. This is the story of Craig Gilner who is your typical teenager. Intelligent and possessing a quick wit, he is an ace student who spends his free time chilling with his friends and smoking pot. Driven by his ambition, Craig gets accepted into an exclusive Manhattan high school. The day he receives his admissions letter is the last happy day he remembers. The pressures begin to mount, and soon Craig stops eating and sleeping. His concerned parents help get him started with therapy and medication, but it doesn’t seem to work. After nearly committing suicide, Craig makes the decision to check into a mental hospital. His new roommates are a colorful cast of characters such as a transsexual sex addict, an Egyptian man who refuses to get out of bed, and a girl named Noelle who has scarred her own face with scissors. During his five days in the adult ward, Craig finally confronts the sources of his anxiety.
At first, Craig thinks being in a hospital is a huge mistake. Then, he starts making progress. His appetite returns. He starts sleeping normally again. Separated from all of his outside pressures (which he calls tentacles), Craig is able to find his anchors (his name for coping mechanisms). While participating in crafts, an old passion from childhood is reawakened. Craig remembers how he used to draw maps as a child and realizes that he has a talent for transforming drawings of streets into detailed “brain maps” of those around him. I loved reading about how art helped Craig to reach a level of self-discovery. Craig has some moments of regression, but those only occur when he is in contact with family and friends from the outside who contributed to his anxiety in the first place. Through his newly found strength, Craig finally starts to confront and make peace with those tentacles.
Despite dealing with some serious themes of mental illness and suicide, Vizzini injects a lot of humor in this book. Craig is extremely witty, and there are plenty of funny moments in this novel that made me laugh. It’s also an extremely quick read. Categorized as a young adult novel, it moves at just the right pace. I got through it in just a couple of days. I particularly liked the relationship development between Craig and Noelle. Through her, Craig realizes that the mess in his brain may not be that bad after all. Noelle is blunt and doesn’t hold back. Craig learns the importance of being more open. Although I’m left wondering about their fates after Craig gets out, I’m hopeful that things work out well for the both of them.
I really loved the last two pages of the book as Craig simply lists what he wants to do now that he is free. He knows the depression hasn’t disappeared, but he has managed to make peace with it. There is finally acceptance. Craig declares he wants to live. Just live.
I’m sorry that you are no longer with us Ned Vizzini. Mental illness is a fight. We never truly defeat it. We just learn to live with it through our personal anchors. In that sense, we win. It’s too bad you lost the fight Ned. Your words will carry on. My hope is that these words I type will carry on. Always moving forward. We live.
“People are screwed up in this world. I’d rather be with someone screwed up and open about it than somebody perfect and ready to explode.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!