I haven’t cured anything, but something seismic is happening in me.
Something seismic happened in me too when I finished this book.
Here’s why: I read the forward last. And while I was reading it, my heart was in total and complete chaos.
Read the forward first. Even though this book is amazing without it, with it, it really hikes its way up to a brand new, stratospheric level.
PSA: this book is written in Own Voice, which is basically the Twitter Writer Community’s way of saying that this book is HUGELY based off of Ned’s personal experiences.
The forward by Rachel Cohen sums up Ned Vizzini best:
The kid could write. He wrote with deceptive simplicity (which most writers will tell you is the hardest feat to pull off).
Me. I’m telling you it’s fucking hard. And she is right. He could really fucking write.
PSA #2: Ned Vizzini wrote this book after he admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital via instruction from a SUICIDE HOTLINE. He later took his own life.
RIP. True talent lost.
So let’s talk about this amazing story.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story follows Craig Gilner, a young high schooler plagued with the type of depression that he can’t explain farther than to say that it sucks. After getting into the school of his dreams, Craig realizes, without really realizing it, that he isn’t happy. So naturally, he decides ending his life is the only solution.
After consulting one of his mother’s self-help books, he calls the SUICIDE HOTLINE, which sends him to the emergency room, which has him admitted into the adult psychiatric ward, Six North. There he interacts with the usual characters that nobody understands and finds himself through arts and crafts.
What’s so awesome about it is that Ned not so subtly drops the hint that suicide, mental illness, the like, is a state of emergency, a medical emergency, and while the rest of the world is so keen on brushing it under the rug, the people at the SUICIDE HOTLINE are like, Craig ay, you need to go to the emergency room because suicide is a medical emergency. AS IT SHOULD BE. And Craig is a little bewildered that it is, AS HE SHOULD BE, because this nation does an OUTSTANDING FUCKING JOB AT MAKING MENTAL ILLNESS SEEM LIKE IT DOESN’T EVEN FUCKING EXIST.
Just filled my lungs with air.
“Everyone?” Joanie turns to the room. “Our new guest, Craig, has what we call an artistic block. He doesn’t have anything to draw!”
“That’s too bad, buddy!” Armelio yells from his table. “You want to play cards?”
“Armelio, no cards in here. Now, can anyone give Craig something his can draw?”
“Fish!” Bobby yells out. “Fish are easy.”
“Pills,” Johnny says.
“Johnny,” Joanie admonishes. “We do not draw pills.”
“Salad,” says Ebony.
“She wants you to draw it, but she sure as hell can’t eat it,” Humble guffaws.
“Mister Koper! That’s it. Please leave the room.”
“Ohh-hhhhhh,” everybody says.
“That’s right!” Ebony calls. She makes the umpire gesture. “You’re outta here.”
This book is hilarious. The characters, the relationships, Craig’s humorous thought-stream, it was all there, it was all bustling over with integrity, humility, and vulnerability. The characters were affectionate while never getting too close, and I could feel the way they adored each other, and how, even though it does seem impossible, they were able to forge life-long relationships in a matter of days.
“All right,” Bobby says. We shake hands. “You’re really on the level. You’re a good person.” We look into each other’s eyes as we shake. His are still full of death and horror, but in them I see my face reflected, and inside my tiny eyes inside his, I think I see some hope.
This. The way the characters understood each other. The way Craig felt understood. The way he felt like things were coming together for him because for the first time he was with people that took what happened in his head seriously. EVERYBODY should take mental illness seriously. We shouldn’t feel like we have to suffer in silence because our heads tick a little bit differently. Because some of the avenues and roads in our brains are blocked by construction.
I hug her one more time and pull her down to the bed. And in my mind, I rise up from the bed and look down on us, and look down at everybody else in this hospital who might have the good fortune of holding a pretty girl right now, and then at the entire Brooklyn block, and then the neighborhood, and then Brooklyn, and then New York City, and then the whole Tri-State Area, and then this little corner of America–with laser eyes I can see into every house–and then the whole country and the hemisphere and now the whole stupid world, everyone in every bed, couch, futon, chair, hammock, love seat, and tent, everyone kissing or touching each other… and I know that I’m the happiest of all of them.
The language was to die for.
Side note: I liked how Craig was kind of stupid but like really good at forcing himself to be smart.
I think this book sort of crossed over and blended together commercial and literary fiction, because the writing was certainly lyrical and fantastical. Craig views his good days as “Fake Shifts” and his responsibilities as “Tentacles.” The way he analyzes the world is so unlike the standard black and white vision you read about in any old book.
I would definitely compare his writing to John Green’s. It’s funny, psychological, tragic, pathetic at times, and so beautiful. So for fans of John Green, I think this book might strike a chord in you. Especially considering the odd circumstances surrounding the novel’s plot. Like Hazel and Augustus in The Fault in our Stars, this book has that oddball scenario that just really fucking works.
What I really want to mention about this book was how Ned was able to sort of split it into two worlds with INCREDIBLE ATMOSPHERES. There was the world outside of the hospital and the world inside, and it was really vivid for me. I felt just as shocked and odd as Craig when he was finally released from the hospital back into the world. Because it is quite a different sensation leaving a place where everyone understands and respects you and emerging back into the real world where everyone is perfectly okay being stressed out of their fucking minds and nobody really cares to understand anybody. And nobody respects people whose brains tick off.
I loved how the characters inside and outside of the hospital were polar opposites. How those inside were kind, caring, more stand-up and real, and those outside were suffering in silence, selfish, and in that all-inclusive fan-club that worships Steve Jobs and the dude who increased the price for HIV medication.
It’s just so telling of the real world and that’s why this story needed to be told. As a recovering hypochondriac, I know how it feels to have others look down on me because I have been open about my mental illness. But I’m the strong one, I’m the one that works tirelessly to make sure that I’m happy and those who admonish mental illness won’t live in their truth. They just won’t. And I feel sorry for them.
I just, there is so much I appreciate about this book, I don’t know if I would read it again because I thought it took an awful long time to even get Craig into the hospital, which is what the back flap description describes, but I would recommend to others for sure. The pacing is the only thing that I want to mention as not the best it could have been.
Miss you Ned, from a new member of your fan-club.
He has another book, y’all. Be Chill. So check that one out too.
Also, Ned fought valiantly for those plagued by depression as he was. So for anybody contemplating suicide, please consider calling the SUICIDE HOTLINE.
I PROMISE you that the world WON’T be better off without you. That you WON’T be forgotten. I can promise you that people WILL mourn your death. That you do more for this world than just take up space.
I can PROMISE you that you have purpose. So don’t end your life before you take the time and care to find out what it is. If you need someone to talk to, PLEASE email me firstname.lastname@example.org
- OR call: 1-800-273-TALK(8255) – NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE
- OR check in to the nearest emergency room so you can get some professional help
*ALL INDENTED PASSAGES ARE DIRECT QUOTATIONS FROM THE BOOK*