- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; First Edition ~1st Printing edition (March 21, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786851961
- ISBN-13: 978-0786851966
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 654 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,572,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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It's Kind of a Funny Story: A Novel Hardcover – April 2, 2006
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up-When 15-year-old Craig Gilner is accepted by a prestigious Manhattan high school, the pressure becomes taxing, and he finds himself battling depression. Partying and drugs don't help. As his illness intensifies, he is aided by his supportive family and perceptive therapist. A prescription for Zoloft improves things, until Craig decides that he is better and stops taking it. In a revitalized state of depression, he calls a suicide-prevention hotline and then checks into a hospital, where the only space available is in the adult psychiatric wing. There, he receives the help he needs, discovers his hidden artistic talents, and connects with the quirky patients who have plenty of problems of their own, including Noelle, a girl his own age. Craig's well-paced narrative, carefully and insightfully detailing his confusing slide and his desperate efforts to get well, is filled with humor and pathos. His thoughts reveal a sensitive teen unsure about sex, friendships, himself, and his future. An almost unbelievable amount of self-realization, including his first two romantic encounters, occurs in the whirlwind five-day hospital stay. However, the book ends on a note of hope, despite Craig's unwise anticipation of a relationship with Noelle. This novel will appeal to readers drawn to Brent Runyon's The Burn Journals (Knopf, 2004), which is another powerful but more extreme look at a likable teen returning from the brink of suicide.-Diane P. Tuccillo, City of Mesa Library, AZ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Gr. 9-12. When Craig Gilner gets into Manhattan's exclusive Executive Pre-Professional High School, it's the culmination of a year of intense focus and grinding hard work. Now he has to actually attend the school with other equally high-performing students. Oops. And so the unraveling begins, with a depressed Craig spending more time smoking dope and throwing up than studying. Although medication helps his depression, he decides to stop taking it. Soon after, he makes another decision: to commit suicide. A call to a suicide hotline gets him into a psychiatric hospital, where he is finally able to face his demons. Readers must suspend their disbelief big time for this to work. Because the teen psych ward is undergoing renovations, Craig is put in with adults, which provides the narrative with an eccentric cast of characters rather than just similarly screwed-up teens. And in his five days in the hospital, Craig manages to cure his eating disorder, find a girlfriend, realize he wants to be an artist, and solve many of his co-residents' problems, including locating Egyptian music for his roommate, who won't get out of bed. What could he do if he wasn't depressed! But what's terrific about the book is Craig's voice--intimate, real, funny, ironic, and one kids will come closer to hear. Many readers will be familiar with the drugs, the sexual experimentation, the language, and, yes, the depression--or they'll know someone who is. This book offers hope in a package that readers will find enticing, and that's the gift it offers. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Vizzini obviously had very real mental problems that drove him ultimately to take his own life. This I do not dispute and I think it is tragic that that happened to him. But I want to talk about his book. I've read reviews praising this book from top to bottom for it's "accurate" portrayal of mental illness. I disagree. I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but I have gone through serious mental crises and deal with my illness every day, and if you can feel better after 5 days in a mental ward it doesn't seem plausible you had depression (unless you are bipolar and cycled up).
At the beginning of the story I can believe he is ill although it sounds more like an anxiety problem than depression (anxiety is horrible too!). He can't keep food down and throws up, he has trouble sleeping, he has racing thoughts that are obsessive and cyclical, and has trouble focusing on his homework. Ultimately he ends up with suicidal ideation and begins to take steps to carry it out. It sounds like anxiety that drives him to despair. Totally believable and relatable and an accurate depiction of mental illness (I'd call it anxiety, he calls it depression, I am not a doctor so whatever, the point is the kid is ill).
Now here is where it starts to become something else. Something that, to me, is both an inaccurate portrayal of mental illness and, frankly, a dangerous story to pass off to teens as realistic. It starts small, like where the doctor doesn't correct him when he equates self harm and suicide. As someone who self harms (and research has shown this), the two are not usually related as counterintuitive as that might sound to people who don't self harm. To not make this clear to teens does them a disservice. Then it escalates to the boy being in the psych ward playing games, making connections, drawing pictures, making out with girls, getting rid of toxic friends, and deciding to change to a new school (um why had no one suggested this to him before--parents, therapist, doctor...there were so many things it sounded like the therapist never suggested that it boggles the mind). Suddenly, pretty soon into him being there, he is already feeling a lot better without physical symptoms of his illness and having this rosy attitude. I am sorry, but if he was truly sick he wouldn't be "cured" in a five day stay in the psych ward (he acknowledges at the end he could relapse, but that is besides the point). In addition to that large misrepresentation, he mentions things like the presence of blinds which, I am sorry, would probably not be there. They don't kid around in places like that...anything you could use to harm yourself or kill yourself is not around. You can hang yourself with blinds.
I think it is very dangerous that the author seems to conflate mental illness and a life crisis. At the beginning of the book, like I said, I believe it sounds like he has a real illness. It is good that Vizzini shows teens what that can be like and how to deal with an acute crisis like being suicidal. But then to pivot to this "life crisis" attitude in the hospital where the kid does not seem sick at all, but merely needs to get his s*** together (which is admittedly very hard and is stressful...but is not mental illness) is shocking. A mental ward is not a spa or a short retreat from the world. It's the LAST place you want to go. It is the LAST resort. You sure as hell don't normally leave there walking on sunshine and roses because of how refreshed you feel. You are glad to get out, but you aren't suddenly not sick.
I want to talk about Vizzini for a moment. He supposedly modeled this book on his own experiences. So I wonder--did it really happen like that? It seems unlikely. If so, he couldn't have been that sick, but we know for a fact that he was because he ultimately took his own life. From what I've read about him he sounds like he was a really nice guy and that makes me wonder if he wrote the book to give a rosy picture and a happy ending to something he knew didn't have one. Hopefully it wasn't to sell books.
So as a reader who has mental illness and that has spent a very short stint in a mental institution and had serious mental issues for over a decade, I would say I am extremely disappointed in the portrayal of the whole damn thing. I find it personally offensive to treat the portrayal of mental illness in such a cavalier and inaccurate way. I also think it is dangerous and does a huge disservice to kids dealing with serious mental health problems. They shouldn't be told there is some quick fix. They should be shown how things are and shown characters that truly learn to cope and deal.
But I sympathize with the author because he did have problems. Maybe he just wanted the happy ending his issues could not give him. I'd like to think that rather than that he did it for better sales. His misrepresentation is not good, but maybe he did it as much to himself as he did to anyone.
Teachers could use this text in many ways in their teaching. They could use it on its own, much in the same way that Speak has been worked into the ELA curriculum in recent years. It opens to the door to many avenues of discussion and is a coming of age story that students will be able to identify with. However, this novel could also be paired with something else that is more traditionally taught in schools. This novel could be paired very well with Shakespeare's Hamlet as both delve into the issues of suffocating expectations, suicide, and mental illness. It would be a fresh way to examine Hamlet and to increase interest because of its pairing with a contemporary novel such as It's Kind of a Funny Story.
As previously discussed this text could open up students to the opportunity to discuss issues that they find vitally important to them right as they are reading it. It gives students a connection to a novel that potentially represents how they see the world as well as a connection to their peers as they recognize that they all share similar feelings and experiences as they progress toward adulthood. However, there are drawbacks to using a text such as this one. It does touch on many difficult issues that are more apparent and aggressive than they are in Hamlet, for instance. It is, of course, the teacher's job to handle them with tact and with care. It would also be difficult if the students do not approach the content with maturity and perspective. In the end, if used well and potentially paired with the right secondary text or examined in another class as well, It's Kind of a Funny Story could have an impressive impact on the students who read it.