Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a deft, eloquent, and riotously funny novel about a not so humorous topic – the crippling effects of depression. Inspired by the author’s own experience during his five-day stay in a New York psychiatric hospital, this book was published in 2006. He was only twenty-five. A major Hollywood film of the same name staring Keir Gilchrist, Dana DeVestern, and Zach Galifianakis was released four years later.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story tells the story of Craig Gilner, a driven teenage growing up in Manhattan. Ever since he was young child, he knew exactly what he wanted to be - he was going to be the president of America. He is a conscientious worker; and because of his ambition and this hard work he is able to get admitted into Manhattan’s most exclusive school and labor intensive, the Executive Pre-Professional High School, which is full of some of the most precocious children of his age. Even though Craig convinces himself that this was what he wants, he finds that in this new school he is struggling to just keep up with the rest of the pack. His best friend, Aaron, on the other hand, got into the school without even trying.
Craig feels anguish as everything starts to pile up on him - schoolwork, extracurriculars needed to get into a decent college, social obligations, and guilt because of what he is putting his family through. Could he possibly get into a decent college or even make it through high school? This anxiety continues to grow in cycles until his life gets turbulent and it becomes to be too much to bear. Craig becomes suicidal. Fortunately, Craig has the good sense to check himself into a psychiatric hospital before it is too late. Here he finally feels safe. There is a sense of stability here that anchors him to reality, something he was unable to find in the outside world. He feels in control. The hospital is his bulwark against his depression. In this environment he is finally able to piece everything together, to brood constructively. He connects to the others in the ward because even though they are of all different ages and have different troubles in their pasts they are all going through rough times and are able to help each other get through them.
In the hospital he meets many people who proved to be true friends, the most prominent of which is Noel. Noel has the same problem as Craig, which is revealed to us by the scars on her cheek. Both Craig and Noel are teenagers struggling under the weight of adolescence and the expectations and labels that society has placed on them. This is a bond that cannot be broken. It is what makes this story so powerful in addition to being witty.
This is an excellent book for teenage readers trying to make sense out of what it means to be a unique and complex individual and how we can navigate between our expectations and reality. Life can be fraught with danger and pretty scary at times, but if Craig Gilner can tame his pernicious demons, I think that we, too, should be able give it a good shot. If we can accomplish this self-discovery with half the humor of the narrator, we will be doubly successful. The novel feels like a genuine rendition of a teenager’s experience. This made the characters and emotions relatable giving the book an extremely powerful message. Other than modifying some annoying colloquial phrases that seem forced, I wouldn’t change a thing. If you like heavy topics dealt with in a light-hearted and witty way It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a must read. I for one strongly recommend it.