Spoiler Warning: There are a couple of spoilers in this review. I avoided major plot details but there is one in here towards the end that is something of a big development.
A couple of days ago, I finished It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini. The story follows a 15 year old named Craig Gilner. He’s an overachieving student who starts experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. It all started when he signed up for the competitive Executive Pre-Professional high school and the demands of the school start to get to him. He constantly thinks of his perceived failures and his fears of being an ultimate failure in life because of them. The whole thing gets so bad that he winds up in a mental hospital to cope.
So, what do I have to say about the book overall. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though the subject matter seems rather depressing, the story overall could be really funny. Certain lines and scenes had me cracking up. The one scene that sticks out in my mind is when Craig receives a call from his principal and his immediate reaction was to yell “Holy Crap!’ as he hangs up the phone.
The story is told through a first person perspective. Craig is the narrator of the story and he is really honest about how he relates his depression to the reader. He doesn’t know how exactly he got it but he knows the various things that gets him depressed. These things are called Tentacles and they range from the daily pressures he feels from school, the inadequacy he finds in his social/love life, and that ultimate feeling of wasting time. Counter to this are his Anchors which keeps him grounded when the Tentacles become too overwhelming. Though he has all these issues, there’s healthy doses of self-deprecating humor throughout this novel. How he imagines certain situations and how he describes certain topics lightly adds to this. He makes his problems real and relatable. Who hasn’t experienced a time when the demands of the world make you want to hide away from it. I know I have plenty which makes me see Craig as a very empathetic character.
I also loved most of the other characters in the story. I loved Craig’s family and the various people in the psych ward (especially Humble, Johnny, Muqtada, and Noelle). I even loved the interactions Craig had with Aaron and Nia though I felt both of their characters were a bit underdeveloped towards the end. I believe that was the point though. They at times reminded me that this story was about teenagers dealing with issues in an overdramatic teenage sort of way. I was a bit annoyed with their characters at certain points but I also realize that it was imperative to the narrative.
The one thing that I didn’t really like in the story was the pace of how the relationship between Craig and Noelle developed. After a day or two of talking with each other they’ve fallen for each other and have a serious make out session. I would have been much more satisfied if they left the ward as really good friends with a strongly hinted possibility for a relationship in the future. This is just a nit-pick though. I did love most of their interactions within the hospital. I also felt that Noelle’s character was more developed than Nia’s in the days we get to know her.
I would recommend this book to pretty much everybody. The issues expressed are a bit universal in this day and age where we are taught to achieve and achieve more to make yourself stand out. It’s important to know that at times we have to look at things from another angle and be aware that you don’t always have to strive for perfection. Strive for what makes you happy. Think about your own needs before considering the needs of others. There’s no need to dig yourself into a hole to achieve some standard.