PLYMOUTH, Connecticut, U.S.A. — Teen depression is one of the biggest issues in adolescence. Cases of teen suicides have made headlines and self-esteem assemblies have become all the rage, but few books have dealt with teen depression as honestly and humorously as in Ned Vizzini’s third book, It’s Kind of a Funny Story.
Vizzini, who himself spent five days in a psychiatric hospital at the end of 2004, lends his voice to 15-year-old Craig Gilner, a kid who has recently entered the exclusive Executive Pre-Professional High School only to find himself lagging in his work and his social life. The seriousness of his situation is apparent from the first line on page one: “It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.”
Craig eventually comes to terms with his depression and checks himself into a psychiatric hospital where he meets an eclectic crew of other patients, including former drug addicts, schizophrenics, and one man in particular who loves to play cards and refers to himself as President Armelio.
The story could’ve easily strayed into cliché territory in talking about what it feels to be depressed, but Vizzini’s humor manages to keep it grounded.
When a doctor prescribes Zoloft saying it will take three to four weeks to start working, Craig asks him, “Isn’t there a fast-acting version?”
Craig’s adolescence also comes through clearly in his mental deliberations: “I’d be talking to girls in school and telling them that I was messed up, that I had had problems but that I’d dealt with them, and they’d think I was brave and sexy and ask me to call them.”
Delicate application of humor makes Craig’s battle with depression more enlightening than disheartening, and it helps the story move smoothly through the quirky endeavors of recovery. While the overall plot will be apparent to any reader after the first few chapters (if the school causes all the problems he’s eventually going to have to change schools), the dialogue remains fresh and the descriptions of everything from the characters to the hospital environment are rich in detail.
In the end, the recovery itself may feel artificial in the manner that Craig accomplishes it – he changes schools, rekindles his love of drawing, and goes back on Zoloft.
The apex of recovery, of finally being able to live and love life again, however, is what makes It’s Kind of a Funny Story an uplifting and compelling book.
Stefan Koski is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.