It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Some books just tell stories. That's not a bad thing. They are some of my favourite books of all time, heck, I'm even (trying) to write one of them. But there are some books that do more than that.
Don't expect this to be laugh out loud funny. It's not. It has it's moments, but it's not hysterical. At the same time, even though it's about a kid, and I mean kid, he's like 15, who suffers from depression, don't expect it to be weighed down in melancholic feelings of abject hopelessness. There's not much of that either.
Depression is such a tough subject to deal with. Illness, people can understand. You can imagine physical pain. Depression a whole different demon altogether. Unless you've suffered from it, it's hard to grasp how something as seemingly simple as going to school, doing homework, studying, can trip your brain up so easily. There's the temptation to say, 'seriously, people are really suffering out there. Get over it and be grateful for what you have have.' I know I've thought it before. When I'm waiting for my train home, but it's been delayed because some guy decided to throw himself on to the tracks, all I can think is what a selfish prick that guy is. Not only has he hurt his family, leaving them to deal with the aftermath and the guilt for not realising his pain sooner, he's also inconveniencing hundreds of people trying to get home. Trying to get to places they need to be.
What this book is help me realise what makes people reach that point, when death seems like the better alternative. In the beginning, I have little sympathy for Craig. He is crumbling under the weight of pressure from school, from friends, from his parents but mainly from his own expectations of this big life plan he's set out for himself. As the story moves along however, and we start to get to know Craig better, he understands in some ways how ridiculous it all is. That if he could just take a deep breath, clear his head a little, sort things out, he might be ok. But he just can't. Chemicals in his brain are preventing him from taking that step. What the author does so well is to translate these chaotic thoughts into words and sentences that we, as outsiders, can understand. How Craig can see what he has to do to get better, but it is always a constant struggle against his treacherous mind to get there. He knows that hurting himself would hurt his family, but to him it's the only option.
Once he's in the hospital, that's when he really starts to come into his own as a character. Once he is surrounded by people in similar situations to him, but are too late to change, he begins the change. Begins to realise that maybe he didn't have it so bad. Then comes the one simple solution, it takes a while, and if I'm honest, it was rather obvious. I'd figured it out after the first few chapters, and I'm no genius.
He's still got a long way to go at the end of the book, but by then he's got what he needs to move forward, to try and avoid ending up in hospital again.
There are some things about depression I will never understand. My opinions about taking your own life, that it is one of the most selfish and cruel acts a person can commit, I don't think will ever change, but thanks to this book, I can understand a little better what drives people to it. The author writes with the honesty and clarity of someone who has experienced it all first hand. He has created a masterful example of how, when there are so many things that threaten to drag us under, all we have to do is cling to the anchors that keep us from drowning and keep us living. You have to read this for the last few pages alone. So many simple, but powerful words. Things that we tend to forget in the chaos going on around us.
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