‘It’s such a silly little thing, the heart. Badoom. It feels good the way it cleans me. Badoom. Screw it. I want my heart. I want my heart but my brain is acting up.’
‘It’s kind of a funny story’ is pegged as ‘a beloved book about a teen grappling with suicidal thoughts’ and as ‘funny and disarming’ which is quite a strange combination. It follows Craig Gilner’s life before his suicidal episode and the week following it in which he is admitted onto a psychiatric ward. For me this book wasn’t laugh out loud funny but at the same time it wasn’t half as upsetting and disturbing as you may expect. Does it have an intricate beautiful writing style? No. Does it make you laugh with every line? No. Should every teenager who struggles with or is merely curious about mental health read it? Yes, definitely.
As someone who does have quite a lot of knowledge about depression and who has read a variation of books and articles on the topic, it showed a new angle. I’ve never felt I understood the thought process of someone struggling the way Craig is struggling as much as I did with this book. Ned Vizzini makes depression into this almost physical, visual thing. Craig describes his triggers as ‘tentacles’, this includes his school work, his worries about money etc… and he describes the things he enjoys as his ‘anchors’ which includes riding his bike and watching people play video games. Then possibly the most helpful term was ‘the Shift’ which is for lack of better words a cure, a switch that would make the depression disappear and return him to the way he was a year before. All this helps you understand him and really relate to the book, as well as helping you evaluate the tentacles and anchors in your life.
This book did take a while to properly start, it does say in the blurb that Craig spends time on a psychiatric ward; this however doesn’t happen until almost a third of the way into the book. While I hate to criticize this book, I do think it could have done without a lot of the first 100 or so pages, especially when talking about his time with Aaron. As a character, I didn’t particularly like Aaron, he lacked personality and I found myself bored when any of his parties or any conversations with him were described. The same goes for Nia, who I found completely insufferable but more on that later. It did go into a lot of descriptions about Craig experimenting with drugs with Aaron which while I understand is necessary to mention, I did get a bit sick of it.
I enjoyed this book much more once he’s in the psychiatric hospital because the characters introduced were just amazing. You have Armelio who has proclaimed himself the president, Humble who is a confusing character but my personal favourite, Noelle who has scars all across her face and is kind of a mystery for most of it and a few more strange and wonderful characters. After he is admitted it feels like a series of interesting life lessons which I suppose for Craig it is. For example a lot of his issues come from school stress and it does really help put things into perspective and explain what’s really important. As well as this, the way it goes into so many different characters lives, each one giving a slight moral to it, really helps you see a variation of accurate representations of mental illnesses. It teaches you that there isn’t just some miracle cure that it is something that some people struggle with for their whole lives but that you can find ways of coping and that most of all you can find ways to live.
Despite romance not being a central plot of the book, I did love the romance between Noelle and Craig. It wasn’t overdone or melodramatic; it was, like this entire book, realistic and that was the beauty of it. Neither of one of them is perfect, they’re flaws kind of complement each other and their conversations are some of my favourite parts. Initially it does seem that Aaron’s girlfriend, Nia, is going to be the main romance and unfortunately she is in it for quite a while. She kind of served to show how you shouldn’t react to someone telling you they have depression and continues to serve this purpose most of the way through. I suppose in that way she was necessary but that didn’t stop me wanting to drag her out of the book and scream at her (not my finest moment I’ll admit).
At the core of this book is hope, it’s a positive, encouraging and understanding story. You put it down and you feel a little bit more determined, a lot less judgemental and a lot more open and ready to talk about mental health and I think all of us need that in our lives.