*Trigger Warning: This book and it’s review contain discussion on depression, suicide, and mental health.*
My book club buddy Jenna of Jenna Stop Reading has repeatedly said It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini was one of her favorite books of all time, and we share similar tastes in Young Adult novels. While I was at a library book sale, I found a copy and decided to pick it up, figuring that I would take her word for it and give it a read- besides, for a dollar, I knew it wouldn’t break the bank. To me, YA novels are a perfect change of pace after reading some heavier novels- and although the past couple of reads haven’t been too heavy, I’ve been feeling a little burned out and in need of something different. Knowing what I do now after reading this book, maybe this wasn’t the best “light read” decision, but the humor and happy ending definitely made up for the heavier parts of the book.
In the beginning of novel, fifteen year old Craig has decided to kill himself. He’s depressed, overwhelmed, and doesn’t feel like anyone can help or understand him. But as he’s about to end his life, he decides to call the suicide hotline, and then ends up checking himself into a hospital. From here he reflects upon the things that have affected his depression and caused his suicidal thoughts, such as his friendships, school, girls, and his future. He dubs these things “tentacles”, or a continuum of things that are out of his control. He also decides to identify “anchors”, or activities that make him feel in control. Most often, the reader is experiencing Craig’s teenage observations about how he feels, what he thinks about the people around him, and his emotions towards two very different girls in his life.
Though this novel is for young adults, it takes on a very serious discussion about mental health. Vizzini relays what it’s like to live with mental illnesses, and often I found Craig’s thoughts mirroring those of Esther from The Bell Jar. Though there is a lot of well timed humor to lighten the mood, Vizzini holds little back from the spiral of depression. He also humanizes those who get labeled by mental illness, and unveils those who fetishize those labels. Craig becomes a hero for those who want to know they aren’t alone, and that it’s okay to be yourself, even when you think you’re “messed up”. He’s also a great advocate for choosing to get help and live, even if it’s one day at a time.
Overall, I think Jenna made a great recommendation. I will also add, in order for me to get to it faster, I did read this via audiobook on Hoopla, and it’s audio is amazing. All the characters had such distinct voices. The ending also included a note that Vizzini basically left a hospital after a suicidal episode, and wrote this book in days- so you know he wrote this with as much honesty as possible. I know I’ll definitely be keeping this one on my bookshelves for two reasons- one, out of respect for the author, and two, to revisit Craig when I need a hero to save me from future burnout.