This was a first for me. I watched the film before I read the book. How is this possible I ask myself? Why did I not, armed with the correct story, sit in the cinema shouting at the screen whenever they got something wrong? The truth is that I was totally unaware of Ned Vizzini’s original novel “It’s kind of a funny story”. I watched the film when I was home alone and a little bored. Luckily it turned out to be a thoroughly engaging movie and when it came to planning my reading list for this year I knew that this would have to be in there. In fact, this was the first book I read in 2016. Armed with a pot of Coffee and some fancy cigarettes I’d received for Christmas, I used my last day of freedom before returning to the office to sit back happily and read.
Happily may be the wrong word to use when describing this book. In fact happy is quite a long way off. It’s kind of a funny story is about Craig Gilner, A very ambitious teenager who is determined to go to one of the most exclusive high schools in New York. When he gets in the pressure becomes too much for him to deal with. Slowly he stops sleeping, he can’t eat anything without throwing up and eventually he comes incredibly close to taking his own life. Craig ends up checking himself into a psychiatric ward and it’s there that the majority of the story takes place. Like I said, happily isn’t the right word.
And yet, this book does have some wonderfully poignant and joyful moments in it. Craig’s interactions with the other members of the ward are genuinely heart-warming at times. Mixed with his family’s acceptance and the journey he goes on there is a strange sense of happiness to this book. It’s a depressing story but it’s intermingled with enough laughter to stop you feeling horrifically depressed at the end.
The main strength of this book for me is the stark look at mental health it portrays. Mental Health is slowly becoming more recognised and conventional. More and more people are admitting to Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Depression and a myriad of other conditions that would usually have been reviled in society. Today’s climate has become more understanding towards mental health and I believe that it is books like this that have paved the way. If younger readers can identify with characters that suffer from Mental health conditions but still have real and developed personalities then they will grow up to form a more understanding cultures.
This book is made up of the supporting cast. The other patients in the Hospital like Muqtada and Bobby are incredibly well detailed. Sometimes an author will make his supporting cast somewhat one dimensional but that’s not the case here. His best friends Aaron and Nia act like two teenagers would when someone they know is checked into a psychiatric ward and Craig’s parents are genuinely likable people who have no idea how to deal with their son. His relationship with Noelle, another inmate, is heart-warming if not somewhat surreal and all of this builds the tale.
The one character who spoils it for me, strangely enough, is Craig himself. I’ve said before on this blog that a good narrator needs to be one of three things; Despicable, Unreliable or genuinely likable. Craig Gilner is none of these things. It’s tough to say because it’s clear he’s going through a horrific ordeal but all I got from his character was a selfish and whiney tone that didn’t quite fit the rest of the book.
Despite this I’d still highly recommend this to people. Anyone interested in mental health or depression should read this book. Any hard-core YA fans will love it and anyone who’s ever felt like their life is spiralling out of control and that their stuck in their own head will find people in the pages that they can identify with. I read this in one sitting which says a lot about the book. As I said at the start, happy is the wrong way to describe my reading of this Novel but after all….It’s kind of a funny story.