Vizzini, Ned. It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Disney Hyperion, 2007. ISBN 978-0786851973. 464 pp. $12
It’s Kind of a Funny Story made me understand mental illness the way that Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Doubleday, 2003) made me understand autism. The happiest day of Craig’s life was when he got into a prestigious private New York college prep high school. Studying for the entrance exam gave him something to focus on, and he does well, but once at school he begins to crack under rigorous academic pressures coupled with social stresses. Soon he is rendered incapacitated by the worst case scenario implications of failing academically. Loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and voices in his head drag him down into a deep depression.
In desperation one night, he calls a suicide hotline, and when the voice on the other end tells him to head to the ER, he does–checking himself into a mental ward where a mix of teens and adults with varying degrees of dysfunction become more normal to him and easier to understand than his peers in the outside world. Living with a group of people who have problems to solve aids Craig in dealing with his own issues and help him find an anchor–art–that creates stability. Getting back on his meds helps, too. The drawing of maps is an apt metaphor of finding one’s path.
The voice is pitch perfect, darkly funny, self-deprecating, and straightforward, and the first person perspective lends an confiding air. These elements create an empathy for Craig and his struggle with typical teen issues on a deeper level than most. A great deal of growth and change occurs in an almost unbelievable short amount of time. The physicality of young romance, earthy language, and drug use (prescribed and unprescribed) add to the authenticity of the story. The conclusion, while hopeful, is also honest: there will always be a possibility of backsliding, but now tools to cope are in place and there are options.
Highly recommended for public and school collections serving ages 14 and up.