Publisher - Disney Hyperion
Format - Paperback
Synopsis - Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life - which means getting into the right high school to get into the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself. Craig's suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety. Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness.
I first heard of Ned Vizzini about 2 weeks before his tragic death just last year. After watching the movie version of this book just more than a few times, I decided to look it up online to happily discover that it was based on Vizzini’s novel. Though it took me a long time to actually get and then read the book, it had been on my mind for a long time.
Mental health is both an intriguing and familiar subject matter for me, having suffered with depression myself. However, books about mental health have always left me feeling disappointed. Not because they were badly written or because of the dissociation with the characters or anything, but because they never show an everyday normal view of the person in question. It’s not easy to write about mental health issues but I think it’s even more difficult to write a character with mental health issues without having to de-humanise the character. The character should be a character, first and foremost. With human issues and feelings. The mental health issues are second but integrated.
The thing that I enjoyed the most about this book was that Craig’s problems weren’t judged in any way. So many teenagers out there suffer with mental health problems brought on by the stresses of school and everyday life and these should not be minimised or belittled, or compared to bigger issues. Whatever the reason for mental health problems such as depression – they are all as important and dangerous as each other. Throughout Craig’s journey in the hospital we meet a multitude of characters with varying backgrounds, ages, problems, health issues – and they are all relatable.
Despite the perhaps dark subject matter of the book, there was a lack of heaviness that is often found in books of a similar subject and target audience. The read was enjoyable and comical throughout the book. It also felt like I was discovering a lot about myself as a person and as someone who has struggled with the effects of depression and anxiety.
I also found it interesting how quickly the characters involved themselves with each other. Though Craig was only in the hospital for a short time, he made strong connections to the other patients. I have seen in a couple of reviews that some people think this isn’t realistic but in actual fact – it really is. Anyone who has found themselves in a closed-up situation will more than likely have experienced this kind of ‘pack’ mentality. A group of people who are all in the same situation and only have each other for communication and daily living are more likely to bond quickly and strongly. Especially when someone is looking for a way to escape and to feel ‘normal’. It’s not only a way to re-evaluate your place but it acts as a support group. In order to ‘survive’, you have to make yourself available, approachable and it again acts as a way to stop the dehumanising that often happens when someone is labelled with mental health problems.
Of course we have to mention the parallels to Vizzini’s own life – who struggled with mental health problems severely and eventually took his own life. Vizzini personally spent some time in a hospitalised setting and I can really feel that through his writing.
Overall it was an excellent book and I am anxious to read more of his writing. 5 stars.