This is the Rainbow List of Must-Reads: Where I review a different one of my favourite books each week! Third on our list we have a yellow book with a yellow cover:
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is a book I picked up in the teen fiction section last year as an interesting summer read. If I’m quite honest with myself one of the main reasons I lifted it off the shelf was because I absolutely loved the quirky cover-art and there was nothing on the blurb that I found entirely unappealing. When I finally got round to opening the book up a week later as I lounged lazily on my deck chair in my garden, I was met with a pleasantly unpleasant surprise.
‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is not the kind of book you would usually find amongst the brightly coloured stories of the teen fiction section, to say the least. The book did not give me that bright and happy feeling I would usually get when reading something of such a high standard, but instead would leave me feeling low and foggy when I emerged from between its pages. This is because ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is about depression.
Depression books don’t usually find their way to my shelf. In the general I find them overly-dramatic and clichéd with transparent plotlines. However, when reading this book I found I connected with the main character, Craig Gilner, in a big way. When Craig sits in his friend Aaron’s house, smoking pot, his brain hazing with misery I could feel my own mind cloud over. When he stands on the Brooklyn Bridge, crazed by an erratic sort of desperation, I felt painfully desperate as well.
I won’t lie to you. ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is dark. Really dark. You follow Craig as the pressure from his prestigious school becomes unbearable and he spirals into a deep state of extreme self-loathing. The book is a brutally honest depiction of what depression is really like. Not glorified in the way of a dark romantic interest or cool like the troubled rock star, but a pure, raw, awful emotion. ‘It’s Kind of Funny Story’ is a book that finally shows depression as what it is – depressing.
And how can we trust that Vizzini’s illustration of depression is not some exaggerated, over-the-top, version created for the sake of good fiction? How do we know that when Craig eventually finds himself in the adult ward of a psychiatric hospital that this isn’t just the psych ward of Vizzini’s imagination? We know because the author has experienced all this himself. ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ is a memoir of Vizzini’s life. He has felt like this; gone through this; been to these places. Through Craig, Vizzini shows us his own experiences with depression. He has shown us how frightening and all-consuming depression really is.
But he has also shown us that it can get better – and that I believe is the most important thing about ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’. Yes, in the first half of the book we are shown how trapped and lonely depression can make you feel, but in the second half we are shown that you are never truly alone. Only when Craig finally seeks help can he begin to climb back out of the dark pit that is his life. Only upon dealing with his feelings does he realise that every single reason he wanted to kill himself could be quite easily fixed. I believe that ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ exists not only to acknowledge that there are people with these feelings in the world, but also to help these people break away from their lonely situation.
Ned Vizzini dealt with a lot in his life. On December 19th 2013, after an on-going struggle with depression, he committed suicide, leaving behind his wife and two-year-old child. When I read about Vizzini’s death it really hit home. Not only because his book was able to move me to tears, but because it made everything written inside ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ all the more true. Because of Vizzini I will never undermine the feelings of anyone battling with depression. I will never see depression as anything other than unbearable, isolating and completely serious. Vizzini has more than earned his spot on this list, I only regret that I couldn’t honour him in a bigger way than this blog post.