Wednesday, September 06, 2006

... But Not Really.

Sometimes, there are books that you love; that feel like old friends. Books that you want to read over and over again, savoring each word.

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, is not one of those books. At least, not for me. It's more like a punch in the stomach, or a cold shower when you don't want to wake up.

Confession time: I was first treated for depression when I was 15 years old. Unlike a lot of teens, who get depressed because of something that has happened to them, I can't point to any one thing that tripped my "episodes" other than puberty and a wonky brain chemistry. Depression is something that I will probably struggle with for the rest of my life, and I've pretty much come to accept that.

Because of my experiences, I pretty much avoid teen books that deal with depression. It's not that they're bad, it's just that a lot of them seem to follow a formula. Usually there's a pretty but really sad girl, a thoughtful and loving adult, and a genius therapist who gets to the root of everything before page 150 and everybody lives happily ever after. If these books work for you -- great, more power to you. They just sound a little contrived, a little too neat for me.

It's Kind of a Funny Story is different; it's one of the few teen books on depression that feels honest. Craig spent the last two years trying to get into Executive Pre-Professional High School, one of the toughest and most prestigious schools in NYC. Everything Craig had went into getting accepted; he spent all his free time cramming for the entrance exam, letting friends, family and fun slide away. Having reached his goal, now a freshman, he is crippled by anxiety and depression, unable to eat or sleep, watching school work pile up. Pot and drinking don't seem to help. In treatment, Craig goes on anti-depressants, which make him feel a little better -- until he decides to stop taking them. Suicidal and desperate, Craig winds up admitted to the psych ward of a local hospital, where he figures out who he is and what he wants to be.

While Craig's adventures at the hospital are a little unbelievable, there are parts of this book that ring absolutely true. The feelings of anxiety Craig gets as he watches his school work spiral out of control; the guilt he feels about putting his family through his illness; the stupid things that come out of the mouths of well-meaning, but clueless, adults. All of that sounded so right, and so familiar, that I actually had to put the book down a couple times, and walk away because of the memories it brought up.

Although I don't make it sound like it here, It's Kind of a Funny Story ... is, actually, kind of a funny story. Craig has a very ironic and wry voice, and the characters he meets in his hospital stay are wacky and memorable. So while I wholeheartedly recommend the book, you won't see me picking it up over and over again, because some things are hard to remember.

And although it breaks with tradition in these types of blog posts, I will tell you that Craig makes it out O.K. and gets a kind of happy ending. I did too; both of which are very good things.

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