“Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life–which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself.
Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness.”
I normally don’t include the last bit when I type up the book synopsis, but I feel like I should here. I feel that it is important for the readers of this book to find out (whether before or after) that the author also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.
Because some readers might just see fiction, and think that this is all made up. Because those readers might think that the people characterized in the book are too quirky to really exist. Because some readers might just read the book, like it, and then move on. I think this novel deserves more than that.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a book about depression, but it’s also a book that teaches us how to interact with people like Craig, people with problems, and people like his friend Aaron, whose problem might not be the fact that he has a problem–
It teaches us to be compassionate, understanding–to listen. It teaches us not to treat them differently from other people, and I mean that in both ways.
Words hurt. It, some times, hurt more than actual physical blows. And hurting words don’t always come from insults, from complaints, from irrational thought. Some times, these words that hurt come from expectations. Camaraderie. It’s this type of bullying that never really gets talked about. Bullying that comes from your own family, your own peers–it’s the way they expect you to be the you they think you are, it’s the way they want you to be better–but really, what they mean is they want you to be more like them.
And this is the type of bullying we see in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Craig bullies himself into aspiring for something people expect him to aspire for. His friends bully him by making fun of him, by talking about him behind his back, by forcing him to do things he doesn’t want to do. His parents bully him by giving him everything he wants, by setting an unreal expectation of the world, and never expecting anything from him.
In the novel, Craig looks for order. His inner voice is a commanding officer from the army! He is looking for order as his inner world is falling apart, and no one from his family or his friends see this. It takes other people like him, people who also have problems, to see that he needs not to be babied, he needs not to be forced into doing something he doesn’t want to do, to find that balance of giving him what he wants and letting him fend for himself.
It’s hard to explain.
People have read this book and liked it for its content and message. For giving a voice to a group of people who normally gets looked down upon because they couldn’t deal. But I think this book has done more than that. I think this book shows us that the fault isn’t that they can’t handle pressure or reality. It’s that they’ve been made to believe that they can’t handle it.
They can, if we would just let them.
Depression is a real thing. But it’s only really a problem when we make the ones who suffer from it believe that it’s unnatural, and that it’s crippling. It shouldn’t be.