on October 29, 2009
The author is a good writer, it's just that he seems to have fallen in love with his own writing. There's way too little action for a 400-plus page book. This book goes on and one and on. The Burn Journals is a much better, more intense, more realistic view of teenage depression. The romantic encounters at the end were a bit too unbelieveable.
on January 9, 2012
I saw the film before I read the book and I knew after finishing that it must've been a brilliant book. I bought it myself and by relating to the main character I realized that I too have been spiraling into depression. I was convinced that because I lived a good life and had a happy childhood that I couldn't possibly need a therapist. This book convinced me to get help and that I am not alone.
on January 11, 2015
WARNING: SOME SPOILERS
I bought this book fully expecting to love it. After reading such great reviews about it, I had no doubt in my mind that I was in for a treat. And I was . . . for the first half. Once Craig is admitted into the psych hospital, the book begins to fizzle. The different characters he meets are interesting (especially Noelle, who pretty quickly became my favorite) and his voice remains believable for the most part, but his journey over battling his depression feels watered down, and the book's ending is rather abrupt. So he feels Noelle up and then, all of a sudden, develops a reverence for life? Uh, yeah, no, sorry but I'm not buying it. The NY Times called this "an important book." If I were to go by the first half, I would agree. Vizzini does capture the essence of depression--of what it feels like--very well (which makes sense given he himself suffered from depression and spent time in a psych hospital). But it seemed like, somewhere near the end, he thought to himself, "Okay, so Craig's five days are almost up--I need to hurry and make him better! How should I do that? Of course, give him a little action with his girl! That oughta perk him up." I know Craig mentions at the end that he isn't cured, that his problems haven't completely left him, but his "progress" (I put that word in quotes because I don't really think he made progress at all) still felt out of the blue and superficial. The best aspect of the second half of the book, in my opinion, was his discovering his passion for art and deciding to transfer schools. However, the decision was made rather spontaneously and came across as a way to tidy everything up without any real resolution.
Furthermore, I felt this book tried too hard to be light-hearted, and thus lost some of its "punch." I know depression is a hard subject to write about, and that sometimes the best way to handle hardships is through humor, but I thought the humor here was a bit forced and out of place. I almost think it would have been better had Vizzini gone a more serious route.
All in all, a noble effort but not one I was all too impressed with. 3/5 stars.
(As a side note: RIP Ned Vizzini. My condolences to his friends and family.)
on December 22, 2013
In Ned Vizzini’s quasi-autobiographical novel, ateenage boy struggles with clinical depression and finally realizes he might be able to conquer it one day at a time.
The trouble starts when CRAIG GILNER applies to a tough private school in Brooklyn. He spends most of a year studying for the entrance exam and taking private lessons and undergoing prep exams. When he isn’t studying, he’s hanging with his friend AARON, who also wants to get into EXECUTIVE PRE-PROFESSIONAL HIGH SCHOOL. Aaron is a lot more laid back than Craig about the whole thing. He spends most of his time smoking pot and having sex with his girlfriend NIA. (Craig covets Nia in the worst way and when Aaron tells him about feeling the inside of her “pussy” and tells him it feels like the inside of a cheek, Craig nearly goes wild.)
Always sensitive, Craig gets clinically depressed after he gets into the school. His parents (mom designs postcards, dad’s in health insurance) are very concerned and send him off to a psycho-pharmacologist named DR. BARNEY. He puts Craig on Zoloft and refers him to a psychotherapist. It takes a few sessions to find a good fit for him, but Craig really likes DR. MINERVA. And that’s when Craig’s problems really begin.
There’s an urgency and a freshness to this novel that marks the author as a real talent. This is not the usual coming of age story. It is, instead, a character study. Craig is just a normal kid until his depression and anxiety spin out of control and he succumbs to the pain of it all. Every step along the downward spiral feels completely real and plausible, as does the ambiguous ending. (Craig is all right, for the time being, and hopeful that he will only get better with time.)
The characters here are not always developed to their fullest, but the author has a knack for giving us the detail that will make them come alive. Craig’s mom shows up at the hospital toting the family dog, much to everyone’s dismay. When she hugs Craig, the dog is in between them and growls. (It does not go unnoticed by Craig that the dog began barking at him when he his depression began to take hold.)
Nia, the girl of Craig’s dreams, proves to be a superficial sort long before Craig realizes it. She’s a tease and not really worth all the energy he pours into loving her. (His friend Noelle speaks for most readers when she tells Craig that Nia is a slut.)
The various patients on the adult ward are a mixed bag. The writer does a good job of making these damaged people come alive. It is perhaps too on the nose that Noelle is a survivor of a suicide attempt brought on by sexual abuse. Bobby and Tommy and Humble are actually pretty funny in their roles as drug burn-outs (what Bobby calls being a “garbage-head”) and they’re as close to the voice of reason as he’s going to find.
The doctors are uniformly sympathetic. (This is not a ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST situation, although everyone kind of hopes that it might be—at least among Craig’s posse.) One doctor in particular has a special knack for getting to the bottom of what’s bothering Craig and offering solutions. (Solutions are ANCHORS in Craig’s parlance, just as drawing the maps is a way for him to stay grounded.)
We like Craig and really wish him well. The descriptions of how he is affected by depression and anxiety get to us on a completely visceral and emotional level. (The author slips in some statistics on how many people in the US have depression or other anxiety disorders, and the figures are high enough to pretty much include everyone in the depression continuum.)
The problem with the book as a whole is that it gives us a backdrop and it gives us lots of characters, but it doesn’t really give us a story. Unlike, say, ORDINARY PEOPLE, where there was a beginning, middle and end to the boy’s tale.
This well-crafted novel is as real as it gets, a story told without self-pity and with large dollops of humor. It’s very accessible. Tragically, the real-life denouement—the author committed suicide just before Christmas in 2013—will now leave a pall over the hopeful ending, despite the important message about getting help for suicidal thoughts.
on July 29, 2009
I am a teenage boy who has depression, so sometimes I like to read stories about teens who are also struggling with this problem. I heard that this was a pretty good book, so I decided to buy it. Big mistake.
The book starts off pretty good, as it is about a teenage boy named Craig who is very smart but also depressed. He goes to a very tough school and is overwhelmed by how much work he must do, along with other problems in his life. I could relate to Craig quite a bit in some parts, and I was really enjoying the book. Some of the characters and situations don't seem very real, but I think the author was trying to make it quirky on purpose. I didn't think it was problemic, as I still cared about Craig.
Anyway, one night Craig feels really depressed and calls the suicide hotline. He ends up in a mental hospital, where he befriends many of the other patients during his 5-day stay. He also falls in love with a teenage girl there named Noelle, and it's all downhill from there.
Once he meets Noelle, the book suddenly changes from a somewhat quirky story about a teenager struggling with depression, to a bad romantic comedy about a teenage boy trying to convince a depressed girl to have sex with him. I find it surprising an author who has suffered from depression and stayed in a mental hospital could write such an unrealistic book about the subject. Yes, the first half had its share of fake stuff, but the second half is just ridiculous and insulting.
I was hoping this book would help me feel better, but it actually just made me more depressed and angry. Craig magically overcomes his depression just because he finds he's good at drawing and, of course, because he has sex with 2 girls while in the hospital, getting to keep one as his girlfriend until happily ever after. While I'm sure people have willingly had sex in mental hospitals in real life, it is a very rare occurance, and the author writes it like a bad fanfic.
It's obvious to me now that this book was not written for people who suffer depression themselves or people who want a realistic view of it. This book was made for teenage girls who think everything can be fixed by having a boyfriend and dream about the vampire guy in "Twilight." If you want a good, realistic story about teens dealing with depression in a psychiatric facility, go read "Cut by Patricia McCormick. That book is far from perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than this fairy tale nonsense.
on March 19, 2014
I spent a pretty good portion of the book amazed at how well Vizzini put particular emotions into words. His unabashed account of his mental state when young and depressed struck me as a very important thing for depressed youth to have access to. When their thoughts have them down, this book might not effectively cheer them up, but it will at least let them know someone else has been there.
Which leads me into my issue with the ending. There's nothing honest about it. It risks throwing away it's great majesty of being a book people can relate to. But alas, I guess that's the state of young adult literature.
Overall I can't use the downfalls of the end to fault the book into pure negatives, but it does disappoint me.
on February 20, 2011
Ned hits a lot of things right on the nose including the tentacles, the cycling(both of which I can TOTALLY relate to and I know other teens can too) and most importantly...the comedy. It's a story about a depressed kid but i just love the way Ned Vizzini can make such a serious topic and add a lot of laugh out loud moments(never have I actually laughed this hard from a BOOK)ranging from the characters to Craig's awkwardness and thought process which I love. This is a must read for young adults and will have you rooting for Craig. This may sound cheesy but this book changed my life for the better and it really opened my eyes up to what life would be like if I stayed in bed and did nothing all day...Muqtada. I know it sounds cliche but It's a Really Funny Story :)
on May 24, 2006
Ned Vizzini has a distinct advantage over other authors who write about teen depression, attempted suicide, and the ins and outs of psychiatry--as a teen he was clinically depressed and even spent time in a psychiatric hospital. That experience has allowed Mr. Vizzini to bring to life the kinds of situations that were once largely absent in teen fiction; that of the fact that not all teens are happy, spontaneous, happy-go-lucky youths.
For Craig Gilner, gaining acceptance into the elite Executive Pre-Professional High School in Manhattan is not the end of his problems, but only the beginning. All the studying, the cramming, the all-nighters he pulled to get high marks in his old high school and ace his entrance exam now seem mediocre, at best, at his new school. Craig realizes quite early on that he's not brilliant, he's not at the top of his class--he is, in fact, average. For a guy who worked as hard as Craig did, with such obsessive determination, this is a blow not just to his ego, but to his very soul.
Craig soon finds himself unable to eat, unable to sleep, unable to find joy in just about everything. As he realizes he's clinically depressed, he tells his shrink--excuse me, psychiatrist--that his only joy in life comes from peeing. Yes, peeing. You go in, you get it done, you accomplish what you set out to do, and you're finished. It's pretty sad that going to the bathroom seems to be the highlight of his day (he even manages to stretch each trip out to about five minutes), but it's also the truth.
Dr. Minerva, for $120/hour, is attempting to help Craig figure out exactly why he's depressed and how to overcome it. But Craig no longer thrives on a life of complexity; for him, life is a nightmare. And as his depression leads to thoughts of suicide, he's not even surprised to find that there's an 800 number he can call. And after taking the plunge and calling 1-800-SUICIDE Craig hikes over to the local emergency room at the hospital, where he meets Dr. Mahmoud (who is not a terrorist).
From there, Craig is checked into a psychiatric hospital, and he meets a motley crew of patients who, amazingly enough, become better friends to him than the ones he had before he went in ever were. For Craig, being in the hospital might just save not only his life, but his sanity and his will to keep on keeping on.
IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is a great read. Filled with issues that plague a large number of teens today, the author has managed to take sensitive topics and deal with them in a humorous way that never seems disrespectful. A very enjoyable, thought-provoking read.
on February 22, 2011
Disappointing. The novel's depiction of depression feels authentic, but once Craig reaches the mental hospital and (in a most implausible turn) finds his fellow patients almost universally delightful, this book really falls apart. Reading it, I felt an oppressive pressure to find these unwashed, arrogant, ranty, unsavory characters as charming as Craig apparently does, but none of them were particularly likable except for the self-injuring love interest.
It is possible to write a funny yet unsentimental and unflinching book about depression. See: "The Bell Jar."
on March 27, 2014
I went back and forth about giving this 3 stars or 4 stars. I chose four because I think it's on the high end of the spectrum. In my opinion, the first 100 pages were...not necessary. They could've been summed up faster, rather than jumping from past to present to past to present. Then pages 100 to 136, I totally related with Craig.
The hospital took up about 300 pages of the book, and it has its ups and downs. I liked the people you meet, but this is where Craig kind of did some seemingly-uncharacteristic things. For a depressed kid who wanted to commit suicide, he was VERY outgoing. He could strike up a convo with anyone, anytime. I just didn't find it completely realistic, since many depressed, suicidal people close up and shelter themselves.
Also, there was an abundance of exclamation points. A lot of them were Craig, and again, I just didn't feel like he would be someone who acts all excited like that.
Then there's the love story. It's great that he got over Nia and all, but he spent all of 10 minutes with Noelle before deciding he wanted to have sex with her. Okay. Not that unrealistic when you're a 15 year old guy and you've never had a girlfriend. My complaint is that even though it wasn't "insta-love," it was definitely, "insta-besties" (no matter how much it was inherently denied) and the relationship just moved too fast. Noelle's character was cool, but her friendship with Craig needed to be developed more. Heck, throw them in the hospital for an extra week, stretch out their friendship, and I wouldn't have had any complaints about it.
Other than that, this book was enjoyable. I got through it fast, I looked forward to reading it again each time I put it down, and there was a string of chapters where I literally couldn't put the book down, because I HAD to keep reading. The characters were fun (though somewhat underdeveloped) but you get enough flavor to enjoy them.
Lastly, R.I.P. Ned Vizzini. You fought a good fight. I've been there and I understand.