When I moved back to New York City a decade ago, I was drawn immediately to the pages of the free alternative weekly "The New York Press". Why? Back then it had a terrific stable of eloquent columnists, ranging from Jonathan Ames and Melissa de la Cruz to fellow Brunonian Amy Sohn. But I thought the most remarkable person writing for them was a young high school student, Ned Vizzini, who would soon become a fellow alumnus of our prestigious New York City public high school, Stuyvesant High School, which is of course best known for its Nobel Prize-winning alumni, other distinguished scientists, doctors, engineers and lawyers, legendary Hollywood movie stars like James Cagney and Tim Robbins, and a certain former member of its faculty, one bestselling memoirist by the name of Frank McCourt. Although I haven't been following his subsequent career as diligently as I should, I was quite impressed back then with Vizzini's crisp, clear prose, and fine ear for clever dialogue. All of these are amply present in his latest novel for adolescent kids, "Its Kind Of A Funny Story", which I think will interest many adults too.
Vizzini offers an eloquent, memorable fictional description of teenage clinical depression in his latest novel; one which is the most honest, and truly - on occasion - humorous accounts I have come across. It is also one firmly rooted in reality, since he had suffered from clinical depression too, shortly before writing this novel. Craig Gilner is a new student at a prestigious New York City high school which is a fictionalized, business-oriented version of Stuyvesant. One night he begins thinking of suicide, and ultimately checks himself into the emergency room of his Brooklyn neighborhood hospital. It's the start of an engrossing - and as I have noted before, an occasionally hilarious - journey through the hospital's adult mental ward, where he soon encounters recovering drug addicts and people with multiple personality disorders. Craig does his best trying to retain his sanity while dealing with his fellow patients, the hospital's staff of superb doctors, nurses and other medical attendants, his family, and his small circle of high school buddies. You will find yourself smiling, perhaps laughing, as you read Craig's encounters, which will, of course, end on a triumphant note. Having established himself as one of our finest writers of adolescent fiction, I am truly looking forward to the time when Ned Vizzini joins the ranks of our best adult fiction writers too.
on June 16, 2011
Before I read this book, I bought it for a friend as a birthday gift. About two, three years later, I finally decide to pick it up and read it myself. It was about October when I started and I finished it sometime before December. There was one line in the book that really changed my life. It was Craig was first checked into the hospital and when he's having a discussion with Humble. Humble says something along the lines of how he's afraid of living and not dying. When I read that I really understood what it's like to have a mental health disorder.
The way this book was written can resemble a memoir because Vizzini wrote this book after he was released from a hospital himself. And that's what makes it more realistic for the reader. As a young adult myself who is still in school, active in various extra curriculars, and dealing with relationships, this book is very relatable and shockingly real. This book is a great read for that reason. If you know someone who has a mental health disorder, whether it be depression, DID, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, you would greatly benefit from this book because you take the time to step inside their mind.
on March 16, 2006
Ned Vizzini, cult author who has been relatively successful although not blown up yet, was depressed. In December of 2005 he had suicidal thoughts and went into his local hospital's recovery program. He was there five days, and it took him a month to write this novel afterwards.
The main character, Craig, is starting to feel the pressures of life. Recently accepted into the most prestigious high school, things start building up, however instead of dealing with them he just keeps stacking his problems in the corner. While he's fallen into some shady friendships and into some pretty heavy pot use, his grades slip and he realizes he's not perfect. The thoughts nearly drive him to suicide, but thank God, he checks into his local hospital instead.
This story aside from some setup, mainly are the chronicles of Craig Gilner's 5 day stay. As he forms friendships with some of the patients he meets a girl, which leads to the development of one of the best and most touching romances I've read in a story since I read Feed about four years ago.
Through depression this narrative shows that there are reasons to live, and should help many teens through rough times. Although it's sad Ned Vizzini had to suffer through those times, it was now for the better since he has written this wonderful work which we can all learn from.
I expect this book to explode on the YA media, even though there are some adult themes (drugs, sex, language, etc.) it's nothing worse than you run into during the average day of life.
Although the book is about 440 pages long, you would never know it. I read this book in a day and a half, and I plan to read it several more times. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Whether you're depressed or not, young or old, that doesn't matter, because this book is about something we all have in common: life.
on June 16, 2006
If anyone compares Ned Vizzini to Ken Kesey, don't listen to them. He's different because I said so. And because he is. In so many good ways.
His third book, IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY, takes its readers on an honest (and, in the end, refreshing) plunge into Craig Gilner's teenage depression and resurfaces in world that, five days later, feels real for the first time. He looks like your everyday modern kid until he sneaks out in the middle of the night and admits himself into a mental hospital. Why would he do that? If you asked him, he'd tell you it's because of all the Tentacles. Too many Tentacles and not enough Anchors. The stresses of life are wrapping him so tightly that he's not sure he can handle it. Even if he wants to.
The thing about Tentacles (Yes, it's spelled correctly) is he'd cut them off if he could, but if he did, he'd end up a failure. That's how life is right? He studies his brains out to ace the entrance exam and get into Executive Pre-Professional High School, so he's obligated or something to the best student he can, right? It seems so simple. Study hard. Read 3 newspapers a day. Respond to email. Answer phone calls. Sound normal. Look normal. Basically, do what everyone wants, when they want, and he'll make it in life. They'll see him as a success.
The problem is that Craig wants to end it all. As much as he loves that beating heart of his and his family and his friends and chilling with Aaron and hoping for something more with Nia, he wants to die. It's the only way he can think to stop the Cycling in his brain. He keeps waiting for The Shift to happen, but it feels eight continents away--In other words, Impossible. Vizzini captivates his readers with wild parties, Argenon (mental) Hospital, crazy roommates, Egyptian music, Brain Maps, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the third best sex scene of the year according to the Henry Miller Award panel, in a way that's as witty as it is wistful, and as humorous as it is human. Readers will love to follow Craig as he learns that cutting off the right Tentacles may be the only way to go from Broken, to Healing, to Normal, to Real, and finally, to Alive.
Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens
on October 20, 2010
I saw the trailer for the movie last week, and I was so excited that I ended up watching it just about fifteen times in a few days. So I decided to finally read the book (I've had it for a while.) If I could sum up this book in one word, it would be "okay". Sure, that's not descriptive, and it doesn't tell you a single thing about the book itself, but that's really how I feel about it. The plot, and the characters were both mediocre throughout the entire book. It was sweet, and had a fairly decent message, but this isn't the type of book that's going to stick with me.
Craig Gilner is a fifteen-year old living in Brooklyn and attending the tough Executive Pre-Professional High School, which is mostly the source of his depression. One morning he has a plan to throw himself off of the Brooklyn bridge, and instead he stops and calls the Suicide Hotline. Ultimately, he ends up in the hospital in Psychiatric care. He meets a variety of people there including a girl who cut her own face with scissors, a boy who's afraid that gravity will stop, and various patients with completely scrambled logic. Through his five-day stay he meets some interesting people, rediscovers his love and talent for art, and gets his life in order; leaving with a new outlook on life.
I think It's Kind of a Funny Story is a terrible representation of depression, or any mental illness for that matter. You never get to feel it in the characters, it's all quirky people and cute awkward moments but you never get to see the depression in Craig, besides his, fairly normal in teens, worried thoughts. I've had my own personal experiences with depression and long-term anxiety, and I really wanted to connect to these characters because I know what it's like to constantly worry about the future, or not want to get out of bed in the morning. And basically feeling like no one understands you, or what you're going through. But it just wasn't there. On top of that, I feel that Craig's shift at the end was pretty unrealistic. I didn't see the change in his thinking until maybe the last chapter, and that just doesn't make sense to me. Long-term depression doesn't make a huge change just by telling yourself that you're going to start living life.
If you're looking for a light, decently entertaining read than It's Kind of a Funny Story would be a good pick. It has the good message that you can change your life for you, and do what makes you happy. If you're looking for something deeper; a connection to characters that have to deal with mental illness, then I would put this one back on the shelf; you won't find that here.
Reviewed at: [...]
on June 9, 2013
I don't question the genuineness of Craig's experiences. Afterall, Vizzini did write this just after his own discharge from a psychiatric ward. However, this book hardly tackles the course of mental illness. Prior to Craig entering the hospital, the book was going in a good direction. Craig's depression seemed raw and relatable. However, once Craig enters the ward, he hardly tackles anything. His eating disorder has miraculously dissapeared. On top of this, girls start swooning after him. I understand that this probably bumps up the novel in teen-read standards. But it becomes ridiculous after he fondles girl #2 in his hospital bedroom. Ultimately, this novel didn't seem genuine to me. As a young person who has suffered from depression for several years, I was hoping that something (humor, even) would draw me closer to Craig. But the characters became more distant as it progressed. In the end, I was left feeling indifferent toward the work.
on January 22, 2014
"It's Kind of a Funny Story" is a book that's been on my "To-Read" list for quite some time, however, with the recent passing of author Ned Vizzini, I thought the best way to honor a writer was to make sure the works they left behind are read. Hence, I moved it to the top of my reading list. The story follows a teen-aged protagonist who grows suicidal after his life takes a drastic turn. This results in his stay in a psychiatric ward. Here, he meets a cast of interesting characters and basically "finds himself." What this book does best is showcases what it really means to be depressed--to help shed light on what is too often thought of as a taboo subject despite that we are all bound to experience it in one way or another. While this is an inspirational and educational story presented in an entertaining way, there is also an underyling eerie feeling to it due to knowing Ned Vizzini suffered depression and recently committed suicide. While reading the story, one can't help but to wonder if some of the thoughts presented by the main character were indeed the real thoughts of Vizzini. The line between fiction and reality become blurred. If the knowledge of this makes you uncomfortable, this may not be a good choice for you to read. However, it is my hope that as tragic as Vizzini's end was, hopefully his modern-day masterpiece helps take some of the shame away from seeking mental health services and battling depression. His story and his life may be the tool to help save the life of someone else. R.I.P. Ned Vizzini.
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 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 January 14, 2016
I really liked this book. I found it perpetually sad and insightful and interesting. I often read books for the storyline, but I found myself more interested in the mindset of the author/storyteller. Which made it a lot more personal and heartbreaking.