Saturday, 22 November 2014

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

Book cover of It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
I'm not technically due to review this for another month or so, but I'm desperate to talk about it RIGHT NOW so you get a frantic blabbery review at a stupid time in the morning. Lucky you. I've already harrassed Ellie via Twitter and Facebook (several times, but she's ignoring me - how rude) and posted a Facebook status for any bookish offline friends (there aren't many). Pleeeeeease read this.

Warning: complete and total lack of coherent review ahead.

Plot summary:  Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life - which means getting into the right high school to get into the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He 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, 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.


AARRRRRRRRRRGH. I swear I don't know whether to laugh, cry or throw up. This book is unbelievable.

Let me start by saying that I really hate (fictional) depressed teenagers. I have the utmost respect and sympathy for the real-life ones, but I find the ones in books to be melodramatic, attention-seeking, petty and have delusions of grandeur. I wanted to feed Sloane to the zombies myself and got three pages into Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock before I hurled it across the room. With some experience of mental health issues myself (although nowhere similar to this level) it can be a touchy subject.

You may wonder why I even read this. And that's an excellent question. To which I have no clue of an answer. C'est la vie.

It takes a few chapters for It's Kind of a Funny Story to really find itself. Craig himself is a reasonably likeable character, even from the beginning, but I just couldn't deal with some of the 'literative devices' used, particularly this one:

'Hey, you want some of this?" Aaron was like.
"Okay?" my Dad was like.

No no no no no no no. Not a thing. Absolutely not a thing. It was almost a deal-breaker. Thankfully it only happens two or three times towards the beginning of the book, but... nope. Cannot and will not deal with that.

Good. We've got literally the only bad thing about this book out of the way. Now let's snuggle down and listen to Aunty Hanna ramble about a YA novel with a suicidal protagonist. I know, right? I may be an imposter.

It's Kind of a Funny Story has some of the best, most accurate descriptions of depression that I have ever read. It makes sense, considering Ned Vizzini spent five days in a psychiatric hospital himself and eventually killed himself seven years after the release of this novel, but it's almost haunting. Craig never whines about how terrible his parents are or how girls don't like him - he has low self-esteem, sure, but he can't work out why he feels so low. He understands (from a distance) how awesome his life should be, yet just can't seem to feel it.

That's the thing. Big neon arrows pointing to this, please. That's what none of the other books seem to get - depression has no logical cause, even to the person on the inside. Because of that, you start to wonder if maybe you're not ill at all. There's nothing wrong with you - stop being so weak and grow up. And this is you talking to yourself. Which naturally makes you feel worse, so you beat yourself up more... ad infinitum.

   This was all an excuse, I think. I was doing fine. I had a 93 average and I was holding my head above water. I had good friends and a loving family. And because I needed to be the centre of attention, because I needed something more, I ended up here, wallowing in myself. trying to convince everybody around me that I have some kind of... disease.
   I don't have any disease. I keep pacing. Depression isn't a disease. It's a pretext for being a prima donna. Everybody knows that. My friends know it; my principal knows it. The sweating has started again. I can feel the Cycling starting up in my brain. I haven't done anything right.
I spent a lot of this book rather shellshocked. It's astounding how well the author managed the transfer all these thoughts to paper. The funny thing is, it's not even a depressing book... nor is it lecturing. It has quite a light tone, even though it's a first person narrative of a suicidal teenager. It's quite chatty and accessible, although it obviously discusses some quite serious subjects.

Some comic relief is added by the other inmates of the psychiatric hospital. They're quite obviously there to lighten the tone and to help Craig understand what has made his life so unbearable. That said, their conditions are never belittled or laughed at - they are funny, but their illnesses are not, and that's quite clear. 

It's somehow uplifting. That has nothing to do with the ending, but it makes you feel that maybe everything will be alright. If people can end up in hospitals because they burned out with too much pressure and extracurricular activities, yet somehow still make it... maybe there's hope for everybody. 

I cried like a child when I'd finished this book. I don't know if you need to have had mental health issues to enjoy/respect this book... maybe. It's not something I've really struggled with myself for a long time, but it still resonated with me. Even if you haven't, it's still a great story in itself and you might just learn something.

This book was:

Other amazing mental health novels include The Shock of the Fall and We Need To Talk About Kevin (kind of). 

6 comments:

  1. This is NOT a rambly or incoherent review my darling, it's one of my favourites that you've ever written. You persuaded me to boost The Shock of the Fall up Mount TBR and it turned out to be amazing, and those neon arrows you're shining on elements of THIS novel are enough to make me pick it up sooner rather than later, AS PROMISED. It sounds as fantastic as I hoped it would be. I'm so glad I made you buy it. :D

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    Replies
    1. Haha, I didn't take much persuading.

      "Ellie, shall I buy this?"
      "Yes."
      "Oh, alright then!"

      Complete lack of willpower when it comes to books apparently.

      It's so good :)

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  2. I like the sound of this, even though the fact that the author later killed himself does make me sure that I'm likely to cry while I'm reading it! I really, really liked The Shock of the Fall so anything that you mention in the same breath sounds excellent to me! Once I'm done with Pickwick, obviously...:|

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    Replies
    1. Earmark it for 2016 then, perhaps? :p

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  3. Yes, I can see just from reading your review that this book gets depression exactly right! I've been eyeing it for ages but I think I might have to actually buy it next time I go book shopping.

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  4. Oooh, sounds interesting. Although, using "was like" instead of "said" in written English is very very bad and wrong.

    If I can find a copy of this I want to read it! Why is there no e-book version? (That I could find, anyway). Boo!

    ReplyDelete

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