Title: It's Kind of a Funny StoryLike 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.
Author: Ned Vizzini
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Humour
Publisher: Miramax Books
Release date: April 3, 2007
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.
I have to admit: I watched the movie before reading the book, so I wasn't really able to picture the characters in my head as anyone else but the actors while I was reading. But that doesn't even matter, because the story in the book itself surpassed the movie by miles (it was still a good movie, though).
Craig's story wasn't your typical "good-hearted kid from the wrong side of the tracks" deal; he was normal. A little bit of an over-achiever, but who doesn't wish that for themselves sometimes, right? He grew up with a good, supportive family, got good grades, and hung out with this friends. To me, the book portrayed mental illness as something that could have been present in anyone. Because in reality, it can. I'm not saying everyone goes through exactly what Craig did, but there are a lot of people who may go through bouts of stress and anxiety to the point where they're on the verge of a downward spiral asking, "what's the point?". Someone can appear to be alright on the outside, but no one knows what's really going on except that person. I adored reading from Craig's point of view. The way his brain worked was so amazingly unique... brain maps? I loved that. He basically is in conflict with himself through the book, and I couldn't help but get into it and hope that Craig would find his happiness through this whole ordeal. The reader can see themselves in a part of Craig, whatever that part may be. I know I did, because of him working so hard in high school in hopes of landing a career that made him a lot of money as opposed to something he could really enjoy. That was me: working hard to become a pharmacist in high school (with a still-lingering dream to become a graphic designer instead), then finding out I didn't have the science chops during my first year of university, and what I really wanted to do was something art or arts related. I basically had this whole un-classy breakdown, dropped about half of my classes, and basically had to start all over. But I figured, what the hell, so what if I won't make as much money? I wouldn't be happy, it wouldn't be worth it. My first year of university was my kind of funny story.
The other characters in the book were likeable; I don't think there were any that I disliked throughout the entire story. Sure, Aaron was a tool sometimes and I wanted Nia to sit herself in a corner and be quiet for about 1/3 of the book, but they all had their moments. My favorites were the friends that Craig met in the psychiatric ward. They were all so colourful and different in their own ways. At the same time, a lot of the other patients are going through things worse than Craig, and that kind of makes you re-evaluate and ask, "so then, is my life really that bad?"
There seems to be this standard that comes with writing contemporary YA novels. There's sex, drugs, depression, love triangles... you all know what I mean. It's Kind of a Funny Story definitely fits the mold, but for a lot of YA authors, it requires some extensive research to write these kinds of novels. But with Ned Vizzini, he himself was clinically depressed as a teen and actually spent some time in a psychiatric hospital. There's a touch of authenticity that came through while I was reading because of this. As he described the settings and the different kinds of people in the hospital, I was able to picture it all, and it all fit. The book holds this quality that can only come from someone with first-hand experience. Vizzini can take these depressing situations and not turn around to make them funny in an obnoxious 'hey, that's offensive' way, but he finds in them a sense of humour made up of three parts witty charm, two parts complexity, and a sprinkling of adorable, which kind of says a lot since it's a book about a kid checking himself into a psychiatric hospital.
I definitely recommend this book to, well, anyone. Teens in particular. It's a light, humorous read for something with this subject matter, and there are aspects in psychology that I found interesting. Maybe it'll make you think about the little things that you already have in your life that you might be taking for granted. Who knows, maybe you'll see a little bit of yourself in Craig, past or present.
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