October 02, 2006

I Heard Kind of a Funny Story in the Psych Ward...

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

I was interested in the subject matter of It's Kind of a Funny Story, because it was about someone's episode in the mental ward of a hospital. I wondered how it could even be a little funny... I mean, it's the hospital... Not amusing. And yet, it is. Kind of.

Craig Gilner's been taking Tae Bo since he was... six. When he was in seventh grade, he determined that he was going to get into Pre-Executive High School, the most prestigious high school in New York. He studied, daily. He gave himself two hour practice tests for the entrance exam, daily. He used his flash cards, daily. He didn't smoke. He didn't drink. He didn't mess around with things like making friends. He stayed ultra-focused on his goal -- getting into the Best School Ever.

And yet, when Craig got into Pre-Executive High School, he felt like he'd hit a wall. Now that he'd made it to his ultimate goal... what next? What else should he be working on to assure that he had The Perfect Life, the one where he worked hard and Made Money and married the Perfect Girl and had the best that life could offer? And, since his best friend Andrew had made it into the school without any of the practice and worry, was Andrew always going to be better than him, and smarter? And, since Craig only made 93% in his grade average, did that mean that he wasn't good enough to succeed in that Perfect Life? And since Nia was dating Andrew, when she'd had a chance to get to know him, too, was he never going to find a girl who wanted him just for what he had? And what about college? What kind of a college was he going to get into with 93's? Not Yale or Harvard or any of the Ivy Leagues, that's for sure. He wasn't smart enough. He wasn't good enough. Had he already peaked out his freshman year, at age fifteen? Was this all there was?

Craig didn't know.

And just that little shift of not-knowingness, and the world closed in on him. Assailed by doubt, pierced by envy, paralyzed by fears, Craig spiraled, unable to eat, unable to sleep; almost halfway through his freshman year, sleep-walking and stressed out. Until and one night, determined that his best course would be to jump off of the Brooklyn bridge, Craig gets out of bed and leaves his house. In an instant of courage, he calls a suicide line and checks himself into the psychiatric ward of the local hospital... and chooses to live.

The novel isn't as wrenching as you might expect. For a novel about suicidal thoughts, it's somewhat light, chronicling the angst and awkwardness of adolescence without going into horrific detail. Once Craig goes into the mental hospital, it's as if, with all of his choices taken away, he is freed. Some readers may find this to be too easy of a transition, but the facts of mental illness are that it is "two steps forward, one step back," every single day. Read a brief interview with Ned Vizzini, who relates how much of this novel is his own personal story, and tells why he wrote it. This may not be a story you'll "enjoy," but it's enjoyable! Craig Gilner is an important character who might even be a little like you.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, ya know, Ned Vizzini is 25? Sigh...I used to feel so young all the time, and now I feel so old...

Anonymous said...

Oh, Lord. Not another brilliant prodigy... you know I'm four years older than you, right?