Reading with Rachel: "It's Kind of a Funny Story"


Funny_Story_front REVIEW

Don’t let the title fool you. This is not a funny story.

Over winter session, the literary world suffered a tragic loss when celebrated author Ned Vizzini took his own life. Vizzini had a history of depression and spent time in a psychiatric hospital, an experience that prompted him to write this week’s book, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”

The story follows New York teenager Craig Gilner, an ambitious student who worked tirelessly to get into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, which he views as the only way to have a successful future. Though he gets in (he actually earns a perfect score on the entrance exam), this is where his problems start to emerge.

Craig becomes overwhelmed by the competitive atmosphere in his new school and realizes he is not brilliant compared to his peers. This realization prompts extreme anxiety, as he sees potential failure at this elite school as the end to a perfect future. He refers to these points of anxiety as “Tentacles,” wrapping around him too tightly to handle, while good, grounding things are referred to as “Anchors.”

The stress begins to eat away at Craig. He can no longer eat or sleep and is eventually put on anti-depressants. While they initially help, Craig is lulled into a false sense of security over his mental stability, believing he can handle his depression and anxiety without the pills. Thinking he has finally reached “The Shift” (where his brain will shift away from depression and finally be permanently stable), he stops taking his medication and tries to deal with his anxiety on his own.

Things spiral downhill after Craig goes off his medication until he nearly kills himself. This suicidal episode prompts him to check himself into a mental hospital, where he meets and bonds with his fellow patients, such as a transsexual sex addict, a girl who cut up her own face with scissors and a self-elected President Armelio. The remainder of the book follows Craig through his stay at the hospital and his progression towards a happier life.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” was written only a month after Vizzini’s own stay at a mental hospital, a fact that comes through while reading this novel. Vizzini offers an insightful, eloquent narrative about a teenager’s struggles with depression that is informative and interesting to read.

Despite the heavy topic, the novel is not exclusively dark, though it has its moments, especially when Craig is going into detail on how and when he will kill himself (a method that Vizzini unfortunately used when he ended his life). Other moments are charming, witty and even funny. It’s firmly rooted in the reality of clinical depression and the journey those struggling with the disease often go through.

Although the book is around 440 pages long, you would never know it. The intelligent, well-constructed plot line, along with Vizzini’s expressive writing style, makes the pages fly by. While this is technically a young adult novel, the book features themes like drugs, sex and suicide and is written in a way that both adolescents and adults will enjoy.

This novel is definitely a must read, as it’s witty, well constructed and highly informative. It’s a fascinating insight into the head of an individual struggling with clinical depression, knowledge I think is beneficial no matter what your age is.

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    Brian H 5 years

    Great review. Ned Vizzini was a brilliant mind and I believe his work will help many people in the future. This book is definitely amazing. His novel The Other Normals has some good themes about isolation and overcoming an us vs them theme, just delivered through a fantasy scheme. It’s a lot less “heavy” I’d say, but this is his classic.

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    JT 5 years

    Agree – had not heard of this book until I saw your column and it is definitely worth reading. This book gives an interesting look into the struggles of his world.

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