It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (YA)

It’s Kind of a Funny Story 

Ned Vizzini (Young Adult Fiction)

“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.” “And what is that nightmare, Craig?” “Life.” “Life is a nightmare.” “Yes.”

Fifteen-year-old Craig Gilner is living his best life. He has cool friends, a loving family, and he’s just been accepted into the coveted Executive Pre-Professional High School. This is where it all begins: a great high school leads to a prestigious college which allows for a lucrative job which paves the way for a big house, nice car, ideal family, and dream life. Or does it? Craig doesn’t realize that the happiest day of life would trigger a series of events that would ultimately lead him to voluntarily check himself into a psychiatric facility in Brooklyn. What can a bunch of “crazy” people teach Craig about life? Well…it’s kind of a funny story.

Ned Vizzini long struggled with severe clinical depression, which is why this book is so raw, real, and personal. We see Vizzini’s struggles, defeats, and triumphs through Craig and get a first-hand view of depression, the value of life, and the gift of hope. In a heartbreaking example of life imitating art, Vizzini succumbed to his own demons seven years after the publication of this book. While his untimely and premature death is unimaginably tragic, he left us with an unforgettable story full of hope, promise, and second chances. We see the incredible worth of friendship and the importance of a strong support system. 

Vizzini could have focused this story on Craig’s illness and the havoc it wreaks on himself, his family, and his friends.  Instead, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a journey centered around healing, self-discovery, and re-discovery. It’s a lesson on re-evaluating the things that we surround ourselves with and not being afraid to redefine ourselves by letting go of possessions, people, or habits that no longer bring us happiness or offer fulfillment. It’s a story that reinforces the idea that sometimes we are bravest at our most vulnerable moment. Craig wasn’t afraid to live, he was afraid to fail and his journey back from the brink is enlightening, encouraging, inspiring, and…well…it really is kind of a funny story.

*Reviewer’s note: Ned Vizzini was a fervent advocate for mental health and suicide awareness.  Help is available through the National Hopeline Network for people contemplating suicide: 1-800-SUICIDE / 1-800-784-2433.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (YA)

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places

Jennifer Niven (Young Adult Fiction)

“Is today a good day to die?”  Theodore Finch asks himself this question in the morning, during third period, and at supper.  He also counts the days that he is Awake.  Awake is good and safe and where he needs to be.  Violet Markey counts the days until graduation.  When she can begin a new life away from Bartlett, Indiana and the pain she feels every day since her sister died.  Both Finch and Violet are counting, but what they didn’t count on was meeting on the ledge at the top of the high school bell tower.  They didn’t count on wandering around their state discovering out-of-the-way landmarks and attractions.  Most of all, they didn’t count on falling in love.

All the Bright Places gives readers a gritty and honest look into bipolar disorder.  Told in alternating narratives by Finch and Violet, we experience bullying, loss, domestic abuse, suicide, and mental illness.  With so many disturbing and difficult topics, it is a testament to Niven that readers are given a story filled with laughter, love, and hope.  Through two fractured and flawed main characters, we see teenagers struggling to understand their place in the world and determined—despite all odds—to make their mark within it.

Young Adult Me liked the star-crossed relationship between Finch and Violet.  He was the Yin to her Yang and the two complemented one another well.  Finch’s fearlessness in approaching Violet about her loss enabled her to break free from her psychological prison and regain her independence.  Violet, in turn, acted as a compass giving Finch direction and much-needed stability.  However, Adult Me really had a problem with Finch’s family and how they chose to deal with his manic depression.  It seemed too easy and convenient to chalk up his behavior as quirky and weird and, “Oh, that’s just Finch.”  When he disappears for days, they dismiss it as, “He does that sometimes.”  This cavalier attitude seems a bit apathetic for a family already put through the wringer with divorce…and a nasty one at that.  During weekly visits with the Finch patriarch, it’s obvious that Finch’s condition is hereditary and one would think that his mother would be hesitant to turn a blind eye a second time around.  But in the end, Young Adult Me just told Adult Me to stop overthinking things and enjoy the story…so I did.

Niven gives us a raw and poignant story about two teens drowning in their own pools of mental anguish and personal guilt.  Whether by luck or fate, they find each other and extend the healing lifelines of forgiveness, acceptance, and love to each other.  Through them, we see that it is possible for life to go on no matter how impossible or improbable it may seem at the time.  Throughout their story, Finch and Violet express their need to feel relevant, their desire to matter, and their wish to be remembered.  By seeking out the hidden treasures within their own state (a backyard roller coaster, a shoe tree, or a book mobile park), the two begin to uncover their own self-worth that eventually allows a violet to bloom and a finch to fly.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.target.com

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