2017 Reading List: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

This next title on my list of books is part of our office book club. This is the book we chose after none of us could get through “The Invention of Nature.” Quite the contrast.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini, is a young adult work of fiction. It was made into a movie in 2010, a movie which I have not seen.

When I first read the plot summary of this book and some reactions about it, I was under the impression that it was, actually, going to be a funny story. I thought there would be some dark humor, some funny quips, some comedic relief. Maybe some people saw it, but I didn’t. I just found it to be a somewhat sad story of a boy with depression. 

This book follows 15-year-old Craig as he enters an elite New York City high school and becomes overwhelmed and swallowed by depression. He recognizes his mental illness, is seeking help through counselors and medication, but still struggles every day. He reaches a point where he wants to kill himself, but instead finds himself checking in to an adult psychiatric facility at a nearby hospital. I suppose the circumstances of how he is admitted may come across as funny to some, but I didn’t see the humor.

We then get to experience this mental hospital through the eyes of a teenager, as he meets other patients, forms friendships, and comes to terms with his life.

I can’t decide if I liked this book. I hate to say this, but I’m wondering if this is one of the very, very few books that I might like better as a movie. I’ll have to watch it and see. But let me air some thoughts and then I’ll decide what I really think.

So first of all (in chronological order) Craig gets into this prestigious Executive Pre-Professional High School because he wants to succeed in school, get into a college like Harvard, succeed at Harvard, get an amazing job, make tons of money, be super successful and have the perfect life. So he studies so hard for this test to get into high school thinking it’s going to set the tone for the rest of his life.

But let me ask you something. Why did no one realize that the only reason he got into the school was because he studied for the test. He studied so hard that he basically memorized the answers. Did no one realize this? His parents, his teachers, anyone? Obviously he’d get in if he studied that way, but obviously he wasn’t truly that smart if he needed to. Also – isn’t this what schools all do now? They teach to the standardized tests because that’s what the school and the teachers are evaluated on. So the kids don’t really understand the material, they just know how to pass tests.

My next thought was that when Craig’s parents learn that he is in the emergency room because he was thinking about suicide, why the hell were they not more distraught? I know that they knew Craig had issues. They knew he’d been seeing therapists and taking medication. They knew he had bad nights and bad days. They knew he was struggling and suffering. But when you find out your kid wants to kill themselves, and almost went through with it, I would think you’d be a little hysterical. You might be a bit more worried and scared. You might show more concern. I felt that the way Craig’s mom reacted was unrealistic. She was too blasé. She showed too much relief. I understand that she was relieved she still had a son, as opposed to the alternative, but realistically, there would be more emotions wrapped up in that, I think.

Before Craig went to the hospital, he’d stopped taking his medication and he was really at a low point. He didn’t have many friends, he didn’t connect well with people, and he didn’t have many interests beyond school and smoking pot. Then he goes to the hospital and immediately starts making friends. He immediately learns everyone’s names, starts chatting with the other adult patients, has some weird flirtations with girls. He participates in things like playing cards, activities nights and art class.

His rationale through this (he does have one, at least), is that the hospital is an isolated and highly controlled environment. It doesn’t feel like the real world to him. Understandable. However, I would imagine that if you suffer so deeply from depression that you want to take your own life, you would feel pretty down, lonely, and depressed for awhile, even in an environment that’s designed to help you. I can’t imagine that your personality and interests would change like a switch flipping. He also had stopped taking his medication prior to being hospitalized and it was noted earlier in the book that the meds take at least a month to show effects. So he can’t be seeing the effects of the Zoloft already.

Which leads me to my next point. Craig was only in this mental hospital for a total of five days. I have no experience with psychiatric facilities or mental illnesses whatsoever, but is it realistic to think that just five days in a hospital can truly help him? Was he really able to get to a point of stability in that short amount of time? I doubt it, but I am open to being proven wrong.

Lastly, his friends were total assholes. At least he came to realize that.

I think I’d give this book three stars. Maybe I’m just not in this young-adult genre mindset anymore. Maybe I wanted something more raw and real and painful, because I’ve seen that that’s how life really is. But you can’t get that when you’re talking to pre-teens.

 

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