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

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath (Adult Fiction)

Esther Greenwood knew something was wrong with her that summer, and it wasn’t just the electrocution of the Rosenbergs or all the non-stop talk surrounding it.  She was supposed to be having the time of her life.  She was in New York and living the high life—a far cry from her 19 years living in a small New England town.  It was the summer of 1953 and what Esther knew for certain was that one of her troubles was Doreen.

Published in 1963, The Bell Jar was poet Sylvia Plath’s first and only novel.  Weeks after her book’s publication, Plath committed suicide at the age of 30.  Given that Plath’s personal struggles with money and depression parallels those of her main character, it is understandable why many view The Bell Jar as being semi-autobiographical.  Although this book deals with grave and bleak issues, Plath’s poetic prowess shines through giving readers a story that is poignant yet subtly lighthearted.  Although Plath’s future as a novelist would never be fully realized, she managed to give us a heroine that epitomized the women of her day.  The feminist movement saw its beginnings in 1963 and Plath put Esther right on the front lines—questioning societal views on conformity, conservatism, femininity, marriage, and family.

Much has changed since the release of The Bell Jar, but the increasing number of individuals diagnosed with depression or anxiety, as well as the rise in suicides, continue to make this novel timely and relevant.  Throughout the story, told in first-person narrative, Esther often describes herself as existing inside a bell jar: continually experiencing isolation and detachment from the outside world, always feeling that she is on display and expected to be more than she is or ever will be, and constantly struggling to be “perfect”.  When Esther learned that the famous novelist, Philomena Guinea, would be willing to pay for her treatment and education, Esther could conjure up neither gratitude nor any amount of relief: “I knew I should be grateful to Mrs. Guinea, only I couldn’t feel a thing.  If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

Esther Greenwood is a young woman trapped in a life that she is tired of living, yet afraid of leaving.  During her story, I often found myself silently cheering those times when the seal of her bell jar was lifted just enough to allow a bit a fresh air to seep through.  It was during these times that I hoped Esther, and others who suffer under their own bell jar, would be able to momentarily experience a feeling of joy, worth, and hope.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to