Thursday, November 13, 2014

Its a Funny Kind of Story

Its a Funny Kind of Story
Ned Vizzini
Hyperion, 2006  444 pgs.
Grades 9-12
Realistic Fiction

Craig is excepted to a highly competitive high school in New York City.  He celebrates with his best friend (who is also excepted to the school), watches his best friend get together with his crush, and slowly sinks into a serious depression.  Craig's concerned and supportive parents take him to a psychiatrist for medication and then to a series of therapists, until finally finding the right fit.  Craig begins high school, starts to feel better, and decides he no longer needs the medication and stops taking it.  He now sinks into a downward spiral, resulting in a call to the suicide hotline after a night of extreme blackness.  The suicide hotline suggests that he check himself into the hospital, so after leaving a note for his family that's just what he does.  Because the teen unit is being renovated, Craig must be sent to the adult psychiatric unit for a minimum of five days once the doctor's are convinced he's stable and won't hurt himself.  At the unit and away from his pressures Craig finds that he is able to be himself and slowly starts to heal.  He makes friends with the other patients, specifically a man names Humble.  A relationship begins to develop with the only other 15 year old on the floor, a girl named Noelle, and he has intentions of continuing it even after release.  Most importantly, Craig rediscovers his love of drawing maps, which he abandoned as a child.  This new found love of art encourages him to transfer from the stressful school he currently attends to an art focused high school.  We see the impact the other residents (a kooky, yet lovable lot) make on Craig's life and the impact he makes on theirs in return.  The book ends on an optimistic note, with Craig feeling hopeful and strong with plans for the future as he takes his leave of the hospital and the people that changed his life.

Don't let the title fool you.  Although there are truly funny moments, this is not a comedy.  Told in the first person, this novel is based on the five days the author actually spent in an adult psychiatric unit and was written in three weeks following his release.  Maybe this is why Its Kind of a Funny Story feels so real and authentic.  Craig is lost and depressed, but retains a certain amount of naivety, keeping the novel from feeling completely hopeless.  Even at his lowest, Craig presents himself matter-of-factly and is devoid of emo-angst.  This feels like two books: 180 pages are Craig's back story and the road to the hospital and the remainder of the novel is life on the psych ward with the quirky characters Craig meets and the connections he makes.  He treats all his fellow patients with respect and kindness and instantly makes friends.  We see the comparison between Craig's so-called friends from home (especially in a scene where his crush/best friend's girl friend visits and hits on him) and his new friends, who are crazy, yet more genuine and positive influences on Craig.  I don't know if a new relationship with a broken girl is the right direction for Craig to head into, but young reader's enjoy a touch of romance, so for the sake of the book's success, I'll forgive it.  This romance is built up further in the 2010 movie based on the book, where the story is "Hollywood-ized" and much of the subtlety is lost.  Craig is a very likable character and teens will identify with him and root for his healing.  Even though the book is long, it is dialogue heavy and reads fast.  There are funny moments, especially with the characters in the psych ward, which goes to show that there can be humor in any situation.  Craig's humor and optimism, despite his depression, stand him well as he is released in the promised five days and is ready to reenter life.  Unfortunately the author, Ned Vizzini, was not so lucky.  After several years battling his depression and maintaining a successful career and family he tragically took his own life in December 2013.  Reality mirrors fiction.  I would like to think that Craig made it and found healing and peace even if his creator could not.

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