Not going to lie, I fully expected to hate It’s Kind of a Funny Story. It’s written by Ned Vizzini, who published Be More Chill while I was working at B&N, which truly earns the award for worst title and worst cover art in the history of YA fiction.
I’d also seen trailers for the movie and it didn’t really seem like my kind of thing.
The book ended up being not quite so bad. It starts off with a a brilliant hook: “It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.” I was instantly interested. Ultimately, this book about teen suicide ends up being much mroe upbeat than I expected. 16 year old Craig Gilner worked for a year preparing for the entrance exam for an elite high school in New York. Once he got in, he realized that now he actually has to attend this school with other kinds who were also smart enough to be accepted. Reeling from the fact that he might not be as exceptional as he assumed, Craig starts suffering from depression. It gradually gets worse, until he can no longer sleep or eat and he starts contemplating suicide. When he calls a suicide hotline found in one of his mom’s self-help books, he’s told that the suicide hotline is actually overwhelmed with calls that night and his best option would be to go to the emergency room. Through a series of unlikely concidences, Craig is admitted to the locked adult psychiatric wing where he has to stay for at least five days, or until the doctors think him well enough to rejoin society. Over the course of those five days, Craig finds himself: he realizes that pre-professional school really isn’t for him since his real love is art (nevermind that he hasn’t drawn since he was four), and that realization changes his life for the better – he achives what he calls a “shift.
Craig’s self-depreciating tone turns what could be a very depressing read into something more; it’s real, and intimate, and funny. The issues Craig faces, most obvious the pressure of figuring out who you are would be relateable to many teens. In the end, though, I found the book to be too unbelievable to truly love. The give day turn-around seems awfully quick. Craig’s problems are instantly gone when he checks into the hospital; he can now eat, makes friends quickly, finds a girlfriend, has his first sexual experience, and has a breakthrough. The overall message was great, but it was tied up in a neat little bow that I found unrealistic and would add even more pressure to teens facing their own issues.
Lastly, do teen boys really think about sex as much as Craig does in this book? If so, I fear for the future. He meets a girl while in the hospital and his entire focus is on making her his girlfriend. Is it not enough to be friends with this girl? That doesn’t even occur to him. And honey, you met this boy yesterday. In a psych ward. And you’re 16. Can we not let him get to third base? Have some respect for yourself.