Ned Vizzini’s ‘It’s Kind Of A Funny Story’, is a novel based on Ned’s own experiences of mental health problems and his short stay in a mental hospital ward when he was fifteen. Vizzini’s work has something of a cult following, thanks to his matter of fact and sometimes irreverent take on mental health. His body of work is small, due to the fact that he took his own life in his thirties.
This book is definitely for a teen/YA readership only. It deals with drug abuse, fledgling sexual relationships and underage drinking amongst other things, not that I have a problem with children reading about these things, it’s just that I feel obliged to let you know there are what are now referred to as ‘trigger’ issues in the book.
Craig Gilner is a pretty ordinary kid who would like to be extraordinary. Given the chance to get into one of New York’s most prestigious high schools, he works extremely hard, burning the candle at both ends to ace his tests, and gets in alongside a friend Aaron, and Aaron’s girlfriend Nia.
Craig feels the most amazing high when he gets accepted into the school. Everything he has worked for has happened and he is buzzing.
He is totally not prepared for the comedown once the initial high of achievement has worn off. Nor is he prepared for the fact that when he gets into the school the work load is insane, the pressure is immense, and he is not even close to being one of the brightest kids there. Craig starts to feel overwhelmed, and his mental health begins to suffer.
His parents and sister are as understanding as they can be as Craig starts to spiral into anxiety attacks, insomnia, failure to eat and be ruled by strange compulsions that fill up his days and leave him miserable. He gets to the point where he cannot bear life any longer the way it is, and ends up admitting himself to the local hospital as a suicide risk.
The main body of the story deals with Craig’s experiences in the hospital, the relationships he forms with other inmates and the beginnings of his understanding of himself and what he has been going through.
The book is really easy to read, despite being about a difficult subject and Craig’s frankness about his feelings. Craig is a great narrator, likeable, bewildered and overwhelmed. You are rooting for him from page one. His matter of fact take on what affects him is refreshing and normalises it for the reader, making the subject matter less frightening and very accessible. He comes across as a real person rather than a poster boy for a message about mental health. I loved the aspect of the book that deals with Craig’s artwork. It kind of reminded me of The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, which is a fantastic book which treads a small part of the same ground as this novel.
I really enjoyed this book. It’s hopeful without being all rainbows and unicorns. It’s practical and helpful and Vizzini has a wonderful way of building characters and dialogue that really make the book come to life.