I was looking through the books in Waterstones with some friends when Jack (whose blog you can find here) recommended me this book. He said it was one of his favourites and I had heard him talk about how sad he was to hear about the author's untimely death. It seemed like an intriguing story, it was most different from what I usually read, and there was only one copy left on the shelves. At the sight of all the other books on offer, I hesitated for a moment, but ended up adding it to my collection. All I knew upon opening the first page was that it's about depression and suicide, but by the end I recognised just how significant this book is. Not only does it teach the reader important life lessons which include hanging around with people who bring out the best in you - it also is influential in terms of changing the mindset of people who may previously have been guilty of ignoring or not wanting to understand the effects of depression.
Something I really admire about Vizzini's writing is the way he is able to apply simple words and phrases to such complex feelings: an 'Anchor' is something you enjoy, which keeps you grounded for as long as possible, in contrast a 'Tentacle' is something which depresses you but you must endure (schoolwork etc). Craig's depression becomes evident when he's accepted into a prestigious school; one he's worked towards for all of his life. However, when he finally starts the term he realises that all the work is too much for him. After his medication is discontinued, he begins to sink lower and lower until he hits rock bottom: contemplating suicide. At the start of the book I emphasised and identified with Craig in some way - even respected him a little for being so responsible and saving his own life - but I didn't really connect with him because at this point the reader only sees him when he's miserable or horny, and not much else.
However, when his almost-suicide-attempt leads to his admittance to a psychiatric ward, we see a change in Craig. His personality begins to shine through thanks to all the eccentric and troubled patients he meets there. This is definitely my favourite part of the book because we get to see him discover new friends and his Anchor but we also see his life take a turn for the better when he decides he doesn't want to go back to school, but instead pursue a career in art. Importantly, It's Kind of a Funny Story is a semi-autobiographical novel detailing Vizzini's own teenage experience of being hospitalised. At the end of the novel, it seems like Craig's life is back on track. The same was true for Ned Vizzini after his stay, until he unexpectedly committed suicide in 2013. Not only was this Craig's story, it was Ned's. For me, it was a bittersweet tale of a salvaged life which would later be lost again.
It's Kind of a Funny Story is unparalleled in terms of its success in the understanding and acceptance of depression. No doubt, it will have taught parents a lot about their teenage sons and daughters; but it was able to teach me something different. And that was that you should never make another living person your Anchor. Find strength within yourself, because other people are unpredictable and hobbies are stable and familiar. RIP, Ned Vizzini.
Rating: 3.5 stars
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