Author: Ned Vizzini
Genre: young adult, contemporary
My Rating: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Novels that can snag a bookworm’s heart are often those that contain surprises worthy of a Forrest Gump chocolate-box quote. They are often the new ones, the strangers in paper with a lot to offer. Our eyes haven’t explored their universes yet, so they can catch us off guard and shake up a gamut of emotions in us. Their plot twists, if done right, serve as special candies for the eager reader.
If there’s such a thing as a bibliophile’s code of honor, I think one of its first commandments will be “Thou shalt always treasure the experience of reading a new book.”
Holding Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story, however, made me realize there's also something so mystical about reading a book that you know the ending of.
I'm not talking about its literal ending. It's not like I've read it before; it's not like I've watched its movie adaptation before touching the paperback, too. See, when I acquired the novel it is new, but it's neither a ‘stranger’ book nor an I-know-every-dent-and-dip-in-its-plotlines book to me. There are only a few things I know about it before I got past the flyleaf: (1) it's about a teenage boy who spends days in a psych ward, and (2) it’s semi-autobiographical.
I also happened to know that Vizzini used to conduct inspirational talks in schools and other institutions about suicide. Even if you haven’t even read the back cover blurb yet, these tidbits are more than enough to know the novel’s gist.
Burdened with the pressure about doing well in a prestigious high school, young Craig comes down with clinical depression. He works hard—and overthinks—until one night he stops eating and sleeping and almost kills himself. Afterwards he checks himself in a psychiatric hospital and deals with his personal demons with the help of his newfound friends.
For a book that tackles depression and suicide, It's Kind of a Funny Story is surprisingly light. It's easy to fall in step with Craig as he relays his tale with an easy (if a little off-kilter and morbid) breeziness despite his situation. When he prattles about his Tentacles (a problem that lead to another problem to another problem) and his Anchors (things that he can hold on to), he does so in a way that was edged in something like confessional whispers. It’s not the “guarded” kind of biography, because in those you can tell if the author is trying to sugarcoat or gloss over some facts of the subject’s life. It’s as if Vizzini is talking to the ‘shrinks’ he likes, or friends that he has no doubts in trusting. I believe this is how open every book should be. I wouldn’t be surprised if writing this novel happened to be one of Vizzini’s therapeutic activities.
The other characters are colored streaks in Craig’s otherwise drab world of anxiety and peer pressure. They’re an entertaining ensemble. My only beef with them is that I wish I were given a little more insight to their characters just so they wouldn’t seem exist in the novel for Craig alone.
It was a fast-paced read, and the narrator didn’t attempt to cram the pages with life-changing lessons. Because the truth, which Craig also tells himself, is that you can’t get better in a matter of days. Nor can your long-time beliefs change in a heartbeat just because you meet a bunch of persons you click with. The most probable thing to happen is that you decide to change. Turn over a new leaf, take a step forward in the right direction and all that.
After his stay at the hospital, Craig lists all the things he should try, all the verbs he wants to translate into actual muscle pulls and smiles and memories. At the end he repeats the word “live” in a string, like a mantra, and repeats it once again as the last one-worded line.
But that wasn’t the real ending, wasn’t it? The ending I was talking about at the start of this review was the one in the news and in many social networking sites’ condolences: in December 2013, Ned Vizzini took his own life. Hearing that news bit made the book a little more heartbreaking because the last pages were showered with hope and new beginning. There is even a mild hint of a happy-ever-after down the long, long road for our narrator.
I can almost hear you guys: “But you should view the book as a separate entity from the author’s life!” Oh, but that’s what I’m doing. It’s not like I’m giving Vizzini’s life a review, it’s still the book that I’m giving stars. You just have to admit, though, that severing the deep connection between a man and his confessions (no matter how fictionalized) is nearly an impossible task. Vizzini’s sequel was everywhere, from the articles documenting his inspirational talks to the headlines about his untimely demise.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story may take sadistically ironic meanings now to many because of its Unwritten Chapter. What it will do to me is still pinch my heart and sting my eyes for the same reason.
As for the promised rating: here’s your four shining stars.