It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
This YA novel is about a guy who struggles with anxiety and depression after getting in to a prestigious New York high school. 15-year-old Craig studies like crazy for the entrance test, gets a perfect score, then is overwhelmed by the workload at the school and the expectations for his future. His descriptions of anxious thoughts dragging him down like “tentacles” and of his search for “anchors,” solid, positive activities and people that bring him back to reality, were believable and sympathetic. The biggest strength of the novel is probably Craig’s voice itself.
I really related to Craig and his desperation; I’ve had a taste of his anxiety, and the situation that triggered it felt familiar to me as well. It’s funny how a bit of success can produce more anxiety, as pressure to continue to perform mounts. Imposter syndrome sets in. Small setbacks feel insurmountable, the future turns into a disaster waiting to happen, and the urge to procrastinate becomes irresistible. I know basically how all that feels, and Vizzini did a great job capturing it.
The first third or so of the book is the strongest part, as we watch Craig descend into depression and describe his feelings in an articulate, but realistic way. I especially liked the understatedly hilarious conversation he had over the suicide hotline, and the way everyone kept congratulating him for going to the hospital. Once Craig arrives at the mental hospital, however, things seem to get too happy and too easy for him, too quickly. There are some stereotypes of mental patients (the transexual character who hits on Craig is the worst example), and Craig’s “count your blessings” revelation when faced with the suffering of the other, less privileged patients is kind of trite. He eventually starts to feel better through expressing himself artistically and through doing small good deeds for the other patients. Lots of warm fuzzy feelings. When drama from outside starts to intrude on the happiness of the ward, helpful therapists talk Craig down from catastrophizing. They explain away the stigma of mental illness in a way that’s all too simple, and not very realistic considering that a high school’s rumor mill isn’t very PC. In general, in making things too easy, I thought that this book did for depression, anxiety, and mental illness what Wonder did for physical deformities: Disneyfied the issue.