It may seem impossible to write a light-hearted, comedic novel about teen depression, suicide, and psychiatric hospitals, however, Ned Vizzini was able to do just that in his most acclaimed work, It’s Kind of a Funny Story. While animated and amusing, this novel is still able to address important and heavy topics while simultaneously forcing the reader to think sympathetically and understand the difficulties of others.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story tells the story of a young teenage boy dealing with the struggles of growing up in a pressure inducing society. Craig Gilner always thought himself as a little depressed, but things take a turn for the worse when Craig is faced with the challenge of getting into Manhattan’s prestigious Executive Pre-professional High School. After incessant studying, his hard work pays off and Craig is accepted. However, things only get worse when he begins attending the school. The pressures and demands placed upon the students by teachers, along with the competition from other peers, become more than Craig can handle. On top of this, Craig has difficulty finding good friends to help and support him. Instead, his new friends serve as bad influences. Despite meeting with numerous psychologists and trying many medications, Craig’s depression does not subside.
Eventually, Craig looks to self harm in order to relieve himself from these pressures. However, instead of following through with it, Craig makes the wise decision to check himself into the psychiatric section of his local hospital. It is there that Craig meets people from many walks of life and is exposed to many people with severe mental illnesses. While in the hospital, Craig discovers his passion for sketching maps and creating art, which helps him forget about his struggles. The fellow patients also help him realize that there are people out there who are much worse off than him, and that the societal pressures he faces are rather unimportant in the long run.
Any lovers of young adult fiction or comedy novels would enjoy this book. If you are looking for something to make you laugh, yet make you think deeper about what’s truly important in life, this novel is for you. I would recommend this book to teens to help them put their lives into perspective, and to help them realize that many of the standards and expectations placed upon them are unnecessary. There are more important things in life than being the best at something, or going to a good college and getting a good job.
I found it amazing how the author was able to create a novel with such a serious plot while also being comedic, sarcastic and light-hearted. One aspect of the book that I particularly like is that I relate and empathize with Craig, even though I have never been in a situation similar to his. However, being a high school student at a place like Blair Academy, where the expectations are set high not only by teachers and adults, but also by peers and classmates, I can relate to that aspect of the book.
The story had a good plot, and told an important story. The author is able to develop several themes throughout the story, ranging from happiness, to pressure, to mental illness and to the importance of relationships. Ned Vizzini did a good job developing every character in the story, especially each individual patient at the hospital, giving their backgrounds and explaining their struggles and why they were in the hospital in the first place.
Some quotes that stood out in this book were, “See, when you mess something up, you learn for the next time. It’s when people compliment you that you’re in trouble. That means they expect you to keep it up,” and, “I wasn’t gifted. Mom was wrong. I was just smart and I worked hard. I had fooled myself into thinking that was something important to the rest of the world. Other people were complicit in this ruse. Nobody had told me I was common” (Vizzini). The second quotation stands out to me the most because I completely disagree with it. While it is true that there will always be someone smarter or more gifted out there, it doesn’t mean that you are not important or that you are “common.” I think this is something that Craig is able to realize by the end of the novel. This quotation serves as a good benchmark of his mindset at the beginning of the story.
While these are all aspects of the story that I thoroughly enjoy, there are some parts that I find rather unbelievable, for example, the length of time it takes Craig to almost “fix” his mental health issues. For a teen facing severe depression for several years, it seems rather unbelievable that he could be completely emptied of these issues in a matter of five days in a psychiatric hospital. Instead, the author could have had Craig enter the hospital sooner in the novel, creating a more realistic timeline. Tanya Lee Stone, who wrote her own book review of It’s Kind of a Funny Story for the New York Times, also agrees. Stone writes, “That he achieves so much during a five-day stay— inspiring a perpetual sleeper to join the living…pushes the limits of believability.” All in all I feel as though it was a good book. It was able to take a somber situation and turn it into a satirical and entertaining novel. However, it could have been better if made more realistic, and if some unnecessary pieces were taken out. I would give It’s Kind of a Funny Story a rating of 3.5 out of 5 maps.
(Copyright 2019 Alyssa Frick)