All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright PlacesJennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places will be the novel I recommend to anyone desperately in need of the feels. Its subject is not without its controversy and emotionally hard to process, but Places is beautiful and finds the extraordinary in everyday places (and being a Midwestern native who knows our hills are more like lumps—I should know.) It makes us reexamine our current criteria of living, if we’re really ‘awake’ or just going through the motions. Violet and Finch meet on the ledge of a bell tower for similar reasons with different purposes. The novel examines two young adults both caught up in their own struggles. While Finch is obsessed with death, Violet is just looking for a way out. Although this sounds like the worst pairing, both of them rediscover passion and excitement, but even love is not enough to keep someone going. Places is a reminder that amid loss and death, people somehow solider on.

Before I continue, this post contains content on mental illness and suicide. Be advised. Also: SPOILERS.

Theodore Finch spots Violet Markey on the ledge of a bell tower the same day he’s tempting to jump off of it himself. He ends up talking himself out of jumping and keeps Violet from doing the same. From there, everyone believes Violet is a hero for saving Freaky Finch: mercurial, manic, a new guy every week. Former cheerleader Violet is the opposite of him or at least she was before the accident that killed her older sister. Violet has been left stranded in what she calls ‘extenuating circumstances,’ and just wants to get the hell out of Indiana. During a class assignment about discovering new places in Indiana, Finch volunteers to be Violet’s partner, giving the chance for them to grow closer and fall in love. Behind Finch’s tenacity is more than just persistence but an ominous, pervasive feeling tearing Finch down. Finch is quickly unraveling and despite everyone knowing about it, no one intervenes, and it’s too late.

Places  delivers a straightforward story about a girl and boy meeting and quickly falling in love. The opening passage quickly sets up the story within the first several passages by introducing Theodore Finch and his disturbing, dry sense of humor on suicide, exemplified by his conveyance of the pros and cons of death via jumping off a building. The narration switches over to Violet Markey, who’s sensible and less enthusiastic about flinging herself off a building than her counterpart; however, she anchors the story whereas Theodore adds comedic relief to a bleak storyline, thus, creating this complimenting effect. The changing narrations help the boy/girl plot, but, admittedly, still contains several tropes from the Teen Romance genre, which explains why it’s so often compared to The Fault in Our Stars (yes) and Eleanor and Park (just no.)  An eccentric boy appears in a girl’s life and changes her complete outlook on things, but in the case of Places, it’s not as one-sided. Each of these characters imprints something on the other, bestowing us with beautiful metaphors and nuggets of wisdom perfect for young adult.

The characterization in this novel sharply imagines teens dealing with real, complex problems and doesn’t exploit characters with mental illness. The crazy, flirtatious banter between Finch and Violet is irresistible, especially in part because of Finch’s compulsive behavior to deviate from the mundane and lighten the mood. Finch’s story is very much about trying to find something to complete him than it is about finding the perfect way to die, though this might just be one of the many caveats of the story. He’s surprisingly hyper sensitive of what people think of him while being incredibly resilient to his peers’ castigation. When the manic episodes dominant his waking hours, his character begins shriveling. The reduction of this larger-than-life character painfully illustrates Finch losing his agency and the underbelly of mental illness, showing us how he departs gradually, boxing himself into smaller spaces until he’s gone. Niven carefully describes Finch and his descent. She distinguishes the two by showing off the intrepid Finch and when he’s lost control. The distinction reminds us of how mental illness is just a condition and doesn’t subsume a person’s identity.

Violet, although is burdened by her previous life and does everything to break away from the past, is characterized as a normal girl. With a character like Finch, it’s easy to overlook Violet. Her story appears minor but contains its own interesting problems. Like Finch, she’s in the public eye but with everyone’s attention trained on her. She is loved, so everyone panders to her circumstances because they know she’s still grieving. She even has supportive parents who are also grieving. She has so many people trying to be there for her but no one that’s capable of helping her transition. Her people are all super sensitive around her and trying to push her back to a place before the accident, but Violet starts to recognize that death isn’t the end but a trigger for change. When she suffers two devastating losses, the theme of the story is punctuated. She survives but is left behind and for someone to have to lose two people she loved in such a short amount of time, this leaves her with survivor’s guilt. Niven also thematically concentrates on the aftermath of loss and shows Violet piecing her life together and trying to make sense of Finch’s death. With Violet, her story isn’t about wanting to find an end but how to restart.

Places never lets go of the challenges of existing in the presence and valuing our lives. Finch, despite his fast-track spiral, was about the liveliest person because he lived each day like it was his last. And Violet wanted to save him—just like he did on top of that bell tower for her. Places does good work in breaking our hearts but doesn’t leave us broken. It reassembles all our parts leaving us with an important message: be there as much as you can. Love the people closest to you. Don’t live according to everyone else’s idea or for your family’s convenience. We’re born and then we die. Not to have lived even one moment is a waste.

Afterword:

Yes. I’m going to do the thing where I tell you things that you have heard on a bunch of public service announcements. If you feel suicidal, contact someone. I know. You don’t want to. You feel like a bother. No one can handle you. You’re too much. If you talk about it, then someone knows just how crazy you are. You’re worried what they’ll think afterwards or what they’ll do with you. Some might worry that person will take you home. Others might try and send you to a psychiatric facility. How do I know this? Three times I’ve tried (and obviously it didn’t stick) but there was someone to intervene—by sheer luck. I got lucky. Eventually I found out that I didn’t want to be lucky. I wanted to feel less lucky. I wanted to be in control.

There are resources available to you, and I get it: the last thing you want to do when you’re in this state is sparse through research or have to wonder about the cost of treatment, which is why reaching out before you reach critical is good. Talk. Cry. Talk. Ramble. I’m sure my SO would tell me my episodes were nonsensical and incoherent, but I felt better afterwards, and I’m very grateful that there’s a person in my life for that.

Tid Bit: Don’t wait fucking ten years to seek help like I did. We are complex creatures who need to converse awkwardly, sometimes in between sobs or through clenched teeth to find our doughy parts again. It’s better than feeling mean and hard.

So. There’s my public service announcement.

Dear Patient Readers: Personal Growth Corner

Dear Patient Readers,

On February 24, I expressed that I would be taking a week off from writing any posts to deal with the imbalanced, brain chemicals that were interfering from my actual living. It’s now March 14, nineteen days after I said that. I’m acutely aware that this is more than a week.

Besides the Mt. Olympia Low that I suffered, I got sick and guess how I got sick? Yup. By not taking care of myself. To summarize two weeks of misery: fever, no appetite, smoker’s cough, and saturnine. And to no surprise, I had another Low because lying in bed for four days and watching even more Gilmore Girls (my wheelhouse) is a 100% guarantee that you will feel like shit and declare that you’re just meat expiring.

Something interesting did happen while I was recovering. I was accepted into the English graduate program in Western Washington University, the fat bold lettering of CONGRATULATIONS louder than the thrumming of blood and pent up bodily fluids in my head.

I got in. Me. Erica Brown. I never actually believed I would. I’m not being humble or self-deprecating. These are feelings I carry with me to keep my hopes contained. I’ve been rejected before. I mean, if you haven’t, then you’re not a person. You’re an alien inhabiting your own planet (but, hey, let’s be friends!) But let me clarify: I’m not going to Western Washington University. I’m not enrolling into their English Graduate program. I’ve decided not to go.

Before everyone gasps and thinks I wasted a great deal of energy and time on this, I don’t think so. I did something scary. I went after something with a very high chance of being rejected. The last time I did that was never. I’ve avoided programs because of this fear. I bowed out of going to an Ivy League school because of the pass or fail admission process. I changed majors to avoid the pass or fail exit portfolio (but turns out, this worked in my favor because I’m actually a better writer than an artist.) I’ve lived under this stiffening pressure of the exclusive need to succeed because failure was like the roof and floor collapsing all at once. I’d have to start over. Rethink all my choices. Rebuild that stupid roof and floor to have a place to stand again. I’ve always been perceived as this person with their shit together, an adult who says what’s on her mind, calm, abnormally impassive, but generally knew what she wanted out of life. Psh, please. I’m 27, folks. I’m talented, artsy, dog lover, and an amazing baker, but I seriously am not some kind of prophet of my own life. I’m figuring stuff out too. While I love the idea of going to English grad school—that’s about it. My support team (who I want to thank because they had to listen to me for the last week flip flop on this decision) has insisted that I’m smart, which I am, and how well I would do in grad school, the people I would meet, and the things I would get to study, but there are so many things I want to do that aren’t contingent on earning a degree, which, by the way, has a scary paucity of academic jobs for anyone interested in being a Professor. I’ve spent most of my life admittedly sheltered. The summer I graduated high school, I went to community college and then to the university. I worked two part-time jobs during school and in the summer. I made just enough to pay for gas and groceries. I had no life except school, and, frankly, to throw myself back into that doesn’t align with what I feel now. I still think education is important, but I was cocooning myself in it and preventing myself from experiences. I don’t have the passion or fortitude for the academics and that’s okay. I’ve got stamina for other things. Writing and reading are my great loves and having an M.A. isn’t some kind of icing to me, but, if it were, it would be worth $60,000, plus interest. It’s just padding for something I really don’t feel I need. I’ve learned more outside in the ‘real’ world than I’ve learned in school.

When I finally realized this, everything in me snapped back into place. My gut was happy again—eh, sort of. Did I mention that I was sick during this whole deliberation? McDonalds. Wendys. I waited another several days to make sure it was the upset stomach talking.

Thank you for your patience dear readers and for putting up with some of my narcissism. Now I’ll get back to writing that post because this has definitely left me red in the cheeks, chagrined from the late revelation. After all, I am a book blogger. Yay books!!

Sincerely,

Your Local Resident Book Hermit

 

 

 

Mental Health Hiatus: Winter IS the Worst

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Greetings Everyone,

I’m not a fan of winter. It’s cold. It’s terrible driving weather. And while snow is charming, in its pure white form, when it melts, it’s ugly, and then you have mud and rocks and leftover ice that looks like broken teeth. Winter and I only get along when I’m indoors buried under a mountain of blankets and wrapped snuggly on top of my bed binge watching for the 10th time Gilmore Girls, which isn’t the smartest counter measure or strategy when suffering a Low.

As I’ve mentioned before in my previous posts, I suffer from Clinical Depression. For the last month or so, during this fine winter we’re having, I’ve been hit with some major Lows so strong it’s completely thrown off my emotional circuitry, i.e., I’ve been struggling to feel anything. I’ve felt like an eyeball most days. While I mentioned lying in bed, I happen to be one of those “well-functioning” Depressed people, who can still pay their bills, clean their house, and cook their meals—but working out, reading books, and even writing are obstacles for me at the moment. Whenever I try to write anything, it feels forced or someone else’s voice is hijacking my words. This has made writing reviews difficult and, yes, reading.

Here’s some good news: I am still reading at a walking pace. I am writing, evident from this short piece.

And here’s the bad news: I have no book review or book related topic for you guys today. Besides my limited emotional capacity that I just described, All The Bright Places was way, way, way, WAY, too close to home for me and brought up all these bags of feelings stuffed with tears, guilt, stupidity, remorse, and regret; yet, I feel awake again and feel closer to my old self.

To make a long story short, I’m taking some time for my mental health this week. I didn’t want to post nothing like I did two week ago. I will be back next week with a review hopefully on Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, which, despite my emotional response to it, is really a book I think everyone should read at least once (but I’m biased.)

Stay frosty and thank you guys for your patience!

Bests,

Your Local Resident Book Hermit

Post Book Hiatus: Ongoing

Hiatus

I hope everyone had a good holiday. Remember when I said that I would have a post ready by November 25? Yeah, that clearly didn’t happen. My brain short circuited several times this last week/weekend, what with the turkey, the family, and the cluster-fuck of people shopping along with maintaining a poor diet and exercise routine that extended for several days and eventually sent me spiraling down a deep, cavernous Low, which I’ve only recently recovered from. It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized, “oh, it’s Sunday…which usually proceeds sometime after Wednesday…”

Even if I had remembered, I wouldn’t have had anything to offer. I’m still chipping away at the lovely mess called ‘writing.’ The book review I originally wrote on Marie Lu’s The Rose Society was just plain awful. It sort of read like someone pumped with adrenaline who couldn’t muster anything except a cacophony of squeals and squeaks from a kid going to Disney world for the first time. I wouldn’t subject anyone to that kind of torture.

Now that I have submitted and completed my applications for graduate school (yay!), I have nothing except time…sort of. Let’s just say that my free time has been spent catching up on other things that I’ve neglected…such as binge walking the premiere of Marvel’s Jessica Jones (it was amazzzzzing!), the new season of Once Upon A Time (kill Zelena for the greater good already!), Supergirl (verdict is still out on this show), and The Man in the High Castle (only two episodes but I like it so far). There’s also Anime like Owarimonogatari, Steins Gate, and other shows I’m screening at the moment. While I realize this is a lot of TV watching, I figure slacking off on my book reading for a week isn’t going to kill me, but it’ll be the death penalty if I continue to watch TV for the rest of my life, for my bones and brain.

What I can offer are updates on things to look forward to in the next several weeks, however.  Post will resume on Wednesday, December 9.

Coming Soon!!!

My Week with Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince Part 6

Trigger Warnings and Microaggressions

Book Review: Marie Lu’s The Rose Society

Book Review: Alison Brosh’s Hyperbole and Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

 My Week with Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 7

Despite Mental Illness: 5 Inspirational Authors

mental healthAlthough implied in some of my posts, I haven’t openly come out and said that I suffer from Depression and Social Anxiety. Only a handful of close people know about it, and even some of them shy away from the subject like it’s a rattlesnake about to bite you. I’ve been reluctant to say anything only because I’m not sure how to get the ball rolling.

I harbor this fear that once people know, they’ll treat me differently (although I am inherently different,) perceive me as incapable of managing high stress (I do fine, thank you,) and possibly consider me weak because ‘it’s all mental.’ And even though I want to say all these empowering things about using cognitive behavior strategies and positive reinforcements, I have to be brutally honest: there are just days when funny cat memes or counting to four do absolutely nothing.

Sometimes I have days where it feels like mold is growing inside of my organs and spreading to my brain. I dream of scrubbing out all the gunk lodged in my brain’s crevices (if brains have them) hoping to clean out whatever is making me so—bleh, suddenly stripped of interest and made immobile.

During this downtime, which initiates the snowball effect, I start to weed through all my past mistakes, which I ultimately construe as failures. I summarize things, which makes me overlook the good parts, which makes me only want to improve myself, which only makes me realize how many times I have tried to improve myself, which I start to realize is a pattern, which I see no one else struggling with, so I conclude there’s no way of getting out of this hamster’s wheel, etc, etc! To summarize, those are what those days seem like to me, and I went years without ever knowing why I thought and felt this way.

Although it’s been several months now since I left therapy, and I’m in no way cured. I still have days like these except they are less severe. Mental illness is a chronic disease, and it’s something you have to carefully manage by taking care of yourself.

People tend to box in those who suffer from mental illness and believe they’re just a bunch of crazies swallowed by their disease, but these people really don’t give us enough credit. Our problems are virtually invisible to the naked eye and thereby treated like it doesn’t exist. Every day we have to battle an army of derisive screams which seems to echo inside our bodies like a canyon. We have only our own voice for support to stop the rock slide from collapsing on us. Yes, we are incredibly strong.

I’m not doomed to be stuck in a perpetual, self-defeating cycle of relentless hopelessness restrained in bed and having to watch the world from a window. I’m able to do things like anyone else. Having mental illness is not the reason we should stop living or be reduced to the bare minimum of just functioning and call it living. We can do more.

Writing has been my third leg for me, and it’s also what lead me to find other writers and authors who face similar challenges.

To no surprise, many authors have advocated the therapeutic benefits of writing. In spite of the stigma that still surrounds people with mental illness, writers are talking over the misinformed, contentious, nebulous noise and revealing their personal battles with mental illness.

Below are my top five authors and poets that have inspired me in some way or who have dealt with mental illness to some capacity.

5) Emily Dickinson

Perhaps the queen of all hermits and warrants a spot on any introvert’s list, Emily Dickinson lived a solitary, reclusive life. Her poetry captured the complexities of the human condition and analyzed our perception of death, expounded by her short, rhythmical lines.

We can only speculate about Emily Dickinson’s state of mental health. She refrained from answering the door and rarely left her room, not even to attend her father’s funeral held at her homestead. Some believe that her aberrant behavior was indicative of agoraphobia or possibly an anxiety disorder; yet Dickinson corresponded with several other writers via letters. No doubt she would have loved Twitter.

So many of us think we have to travel the world and be exposed to unique experience to have something interesting to say, but there’s also taking what you know and just going with it.

4) Sylvia Plath

Sylvia PlathHer work is contained in the genre of confessional poetry and would later garner her acclaim. She wrote only one novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical story that depicts a girl named Ester interning in a big city and winding up in a mental institution after attempting to kill herself. In Plath’s unabridged journals, we see her lay bare her most empowering, vulnerable, tumultuous feelings in fluid yet raw sentences.

Although Sylvia Plath was never officially diagnosed yet underwent electric shock therapy regardless, she more than likely suffered from some kind of mental illness.

Tragically Plath committed suicide before the release of her novel, but it’s her fervent passion of writing and seeking out life that has always inspired me. There’s a reason so many young women gravitate towards her.

3) J.K. Rowling

Yes, the Harry Potter Author.

Even though I’ve just started reading the Harry Potter series, I’ve known about the author for a long time and stay regularly updated.

Depicted by the press as a rags-to-riches story, J.K. Rowling’s life does at times seem like a fairy-tale, but that’s just the romanced version of it.  She has opened up and talked about the darker parts of her life when she was struggling with Depression and having thoughts of suicide. Once faced with overwhelming adversity, she managed to come out alive on the other side.

The reason I include Rowling on this list is not just because she’s a famous author, but the fact that she didn’t let that time in her life define who she is. From her own pit of despair and hopelessness, she was capable of generating such a story that affected others with an overall amount of goodness and inspired others for the better. We can all use a little bit of that.

2) John Green

John Green is one of the loudest in-a-good-way advocates of mental illness and is forthcoming about his struggles with Anxiety and Depression. At one time, his mental condition was so severe it kept him from completing his Looking For Alaska, until he eventually sought treatment. While Green is receiving a lot of attention lately and is probably the most well-known YA author around, his books are so full of young, humanistic experiences that he not only reminds people of their emotional capacity but is also an example of what you can do after you have your mental illness under control. You can end up doing great things.

1) Libba Bray

Libba BrayLibba Bray. Oh, Libba Bray.

When I first read a Libba Bray book, I thought my heart was going to do a Gymnast flip right out of my chest. Her writing is gorgeous and has a knack of filling her pages with such interesting characters. Her stories are just the right kind of bizarre and twisty that if I didn’t have a day job, I would keep reading them, even after finishing them (except for Lair of Dreams because that is just not out…yet.)

Not only am I in love with her books, she’s also an amazing person and candid about her experience with mental illness, and how it was writing that saves her.

Writing kept them going and eventually lead them to doing what they loved. If you know any writers you think should be included on this list, feel free to leave your comments. You can never have too many inspirations.

The Funny Thing About Depression and Reading

photographing-landscapes-6eAfter I’ve read a sentence six times and fail to retain anything I’ve read within the last five minutes, I think I know what’s wrong. I’ll tell myself that I’m tired. The book isn’t interesting. I’ll pick it up another time. Just keep reading. You just don’t feel like reading. Just wait. It’ll get better!

These reading dry spells can last for weeks and sometimes even months for me. Most readers have run into this at least once or twice, but with Depression, it can potentially annihilate all your interests and love for books.

The thing is most professionals will suggest reading books. It’s one of the many, many, MANY methods in countering the effects of Depression. I haven’t tried them all, but I know from experience, reading and depression do not mix. It’s like breeding a porcupine with a sheep and creating this seemingly soft but prickly thing. There’s never been a time when a book pulled me out of one of my Lows. Reading brings comfort and lets my mind actively engage with something. As long as I can concentrate, can feel something, and can stay in the present long enough to visualize the story anyway. Depression is a vacuum that mercilessly cleans you out. It removes the parts that make you who you are, so it makes sense why it can be hard for me.

It can be frustrating to people looking at someone with Depression from the outside. It might be tempting to say ‘cheer up’ or even advise that person take some Advil (oh how I wish I were kidding about that last part.) It’s more complicated than that and having to explain the reasons can turn into a cornucopia of pervasiveness and sound like half-ass excuses for laziness. As much attention as the mental disorder has received lately, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about mental illnesses, except that there’s no cure, just methods on how to manage it. Reading just sadly isn’t one of them for me. How I wish a stack of books could be my anti-depressants when it’s a source of uplifting energy for others. Interestingly enough, books contain some of the most heartbreaking, dispiriting material imaginable.

Goodreads has a list dedicated to the most depressing books of all time starting with The Diary of a Young Girl. They’re not wrong though, with characters such as Jay Gatsby and Edna Pontellier as the poster models of repressed adults. A copious amount of books are saturated with brooding and volatile themes along with dismaying and tragic content. It’s almost impossible to find a book that doesn’t expose us to at least some traumatic experience involving sexual abuse, rape, alcohol/drug addiction, molestation, murder, disability, cancer, bigotry, racism, suicide, etc. So why do we continue to read these books if they’re only filled with joyless and heartbreaking moments? Because they’re good for us.

Books, mainly literary fiction, evoke tangible responses and affects how we emphasize with our other fellow human beings. We’re able to discern another person’s pain, internalize it, and grow as people. It’s the contradictory and hopeless, tragic stories that have engendered timeless classics that are profound and memorable. Maybe not the most pleasant of truths (when is it ever), but all of us have suffered at one point and are able to relate to another because of our pain. Books are bulky, accessible, jacket wearing doses of good-for-you humanity.

As I learned especially after being diagnosed with Depression, there are steps that I can do to avoid triggering a Low. This involves reading regularly and maintaining a routine. I realize how contradicting this may sound, but it’s actually not. Reading does not trigger Lows; it clearly does the opposite. I’m doing something I enjoy. Reading is a form of self-care for me.

When I was in college earning my English degree, I used to have to read an average of six to eight books a week and then have to write a mature, critical argumentative paper praying that I wouldn’t accidentally mix up one miserable guy encumbered by his gynophobia from another (a summation of American Literature). What I remember most about this time was not the late night papers or the books I read but the overwhelming, global mental breakdowns. I really thought the only way to survive college was to suck it up and keep going because everyone else seemed well-adjusted. If they could do it, so could I. The crippling Lows and panic attacks were just something I thought would go away on their own. I thought I would grow out of them. Classic self-denial-twenty-three-year-old me.

Looking back, I was missing balance and neglecting myself. It’s important to take time for yourself—just don’t go crazy and realize you just spent the entire day binging on that new TV show or shopping for all the pretty clothes you want to buy (I’m frugal.) Workaholics like me are terrible at taking breaks. We wear ourselves down like a pair of shoes. And, I admit, I still struggle in taking time for myself, as I sometimes interpret not working as ‘wasting time,’ when it’s not.  While doing something consistently keeps me in a check, and yes, happy, it’s still good to unwind with something else.

Before when I was Depressed and suffering Lows, I wouldn’t do anything. I’d wait for the Low to pass like a Cold. I would try and just read when, in actuality, I was just sitting in my room with the curtains shut and becoming a paperweight. A change in environment and activity ends up being the best thing for me to do, even though, I admit, forcing myself outside and interacting with other people feels like the total opposite of what you want to do with every bone in your body pretending like they’re crystallizing.

The brain is funny like that, and as I grow older and “wiser,” I’m coming to terms with mine and the things I have to do to be mentally healthy. If I want to do things I love, such as reading, I have to put the book aside once and while, go out, not be a hermit, socialize, interact with people, say more than two sentences, play with my dog (it’s an activity!), smile at someone, hold open the door, maybe eat a salad, walk or run, take a hot bath, write, write more, and sleep because the best part of books is that they’ll wait for you until you’re ready.

NoteI’m not a doctor, a therapist, or any kind of expert. You’ll find no prestigious degree noted in my fancy bio. If you or someone else you know is suffering with Depression, Anxiety, trauma and mental illness, please seek professional help. They know what they’re doing and can help make your life suck significantly less. I waited longer than I should have, and as a result, suffered to the point where my issues turned critical. Don’t do that to yourself. Talk with medical professionals in your area and learn what your options are. And I realize that therapy can be stupidly expensive, so find options that work with you. Some clinics offer sliding scale fees making therapy affordable and less likely to trigger financial stress. Make sure to find someone you’re comfortable with, and if you’re on medication, find the right balance, which may not happen right away. This may take some experimenting, but it’s worth it. Your first time with a therapist might be scary and new, but you will definitely reap the benefits as long as you take it seriously. This is about you and your health. Your pain is just as real as any physical one. Okay. I’m done with the public service announcement.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Ned Vizzini

Funny_Story_frontNed Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story hits home with many people suffering from Depression, suicide ideation, and the stigmatization of mental illness. It’s a relatable story and an eye-opener to the misinformed mass of people unbeknownst of the real, medically debilitating issues incurred through the disease. For Craig Gilner, he just wanted to get into the best school, go to the best college, get the best job, find the perfect wife, and have kids. Simple. In spite of its difficult subject, It’s Kind of a Funny Story is funny and poignant. It’s one of the more honest novels I’ve read on teenagers with mental illness.

Craig Gilner knows exactly what he wants from life: success. When he’s accepted into the Executive Pre-Professional High School, he’s beyond elated and can’t wait to start and begin on the path to a good life; his year of intense studying has paid off. At his new school, however, he’s struggling academically. The pressure to succeed overwhelms him so much that he can’t eat or sleep anymore. After a while, he decides he’s going to kill himself, which eventually leads him to checking himself into a psychiatric ward.  He’s then required to stay at the hospital for five days meeting an eclectic group of people. During his time there, Craig is able to confront the source of his Depression and Anxiety and discovers more than he expected.

Story is didactic and delightful for its plot structure. It forgoes chronology for the first half and instead plunges the reader in the middle of Craig’s hardship. Eventually the story resumes a linear order, but the story telling is truly one of the more interesting aspects; Vizzini’s treatment of the narrative ties to the novel’s strongest image, the brain map. The first half filled with flashbacks reverting back to the present is a pleasure to read with the symbols of the images bolstering the story’s meanings.

A tangible and sympathetic story, Vizzini’s novel is also kind of funny. There’s a mix of humor in the book peppered with hilarity and uncomfortable not-so-funny moments. Gilner’s suicide attempt is the last thing to joke about, the least funny bit of Story; yet, I can’t help but snicker when Gilner is calling the Suicide Hotline and is flooded with other callers, so he’s transferred to the hotline to pacify his anxiety until the Suicide Hotline is available. And it’s sort of funny when Gilner is conversing with the soldier voice in his head and has to explain with great care and difficulty that he’s not hearing voices—just this one soldier guy that’s him but isn’t him. Without the deadpan humor and eccentricities of the novel, Story would end up taking itself too seriously.

But Gilner is an austere protagonist. Reading about his struggles is like watching someone tunnel his way out of a prison with a teaspoon. He takes everything he does too seriously. Gilner’s view on life is simple and circumscribed, possibly causing what he sees as “tentacles.” When things are less stressful, more stabilized, he refers to them as “anchors.” We see Vizzini discussing emotional and difficult issues through powerful images and things the narrator Gilner identities with. These literary images are quite palpable and make me appreciate the novel and its characters more.

The other characters, albeit interesting, we never really know. This book is unquestionably about Gilner’s mental health and his recovery, so the other characters don’t receive the same amount of attention, thus, are not as fleshed out. What’s significant though is the commonality between these supporting characters that is antithetical to Gilner’s life. Most of them don’t have a support network, or they’re estranged from their family and friends. The severity of Gilner’s condition is offset by his propitious, loving environment of his family. While Gilner has experienced things that the majority of us may never be exposed to, he is still in a way sheltered from the worst.

I found Story scrupulous and almost methodical in its writing and language. Vizzini proportionately writes about the decline and recovery of Gilner’s mental health in an innocent, winsome voice that is easy to follow but exceptionally mature. What I’m mostly impressed with, as I’ve already praised repeatedly in this review and just have to gush about some more, is the images and symbolism deployed in the novel. Plot and characters are not the only pillars in this story. Without the use of the brain map, this story would be dangling—and a different cover.

And then there’s the conclusion of Story that cannot be summarized in one word or a sentence. It takes a page of constant, breathless prose to finish the novel, and it fills us with renewed purpose and perspective. It’s not the meaning of life, but it’s the thing we forget so easily. Somehow we go through the motions and forget that we are supposed to be living instead of being lead. It’s kind of funny how that happens.