Craig Gilner is under a lot of pressure. All the normal teen stuff like fitting in, girls and puberty but also attending Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School. There’s more homework given than there is time in the day. He has to stay on top of current events and the stock market. He’s a bright boy with a brighter future but at school he’s bottom of the class. He stops eating and stops sleeping. One night he thinks about killing himself. He takes himself to hospital. This is the story of his five short days in an adult’s mental health ward.
The author, Ned Vizzini spent time in a psychiatric hospital so you call this book well informed fiction. Faction. Is that a thing? I’ve made it a thing. It sounded like a brave book, exploring mental health, the American health system’s methods of treating these illnesses and the courage it takes to seek help. Instead, this is the troupiest teen book I have ever read. As if a deep book about depression tried transporting without realising in the pod was the world’s most cliché teen romance story and it comes out the other end as this book. As it was published over 10 years ago, it could have set the standard but one character is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Fantasy incarnate. Even our main character Craig seems a little two dimensional, wanting nothing more than sex and acceptance, surely that can’t be true. Boys help me out, did you seek and crave sex that much or has fiction taken the tiniest notion and run with it? It felt as though there was a bingo card of what should be in teen books and they called Full House.
It’s hard writing about depression. It is an illness but it effects everyone in different ways. Like women get colds and carry on while men moan. It’s the same with depression. Craig is indifferent to his illness. He has almost a clinical reaction. He recognises it and seeks help. This is brave. However, the whole book made me think of this exchange in The Simpsons.
Bart: Nothing you say can upset us. We’re the MTV generation.
Lisa: We feel neither highs or lows.
Homer: Really? What’s it like?
Lisa: [shrugs] Eh.
It’s hard to criticise this books for its portrayal of depression with what we know of the author and how he took his own life. It doesn’t come across as honest. It comes across as acute. I should stop. Who am I to judge how real someone’s depression is? When Craig feels like killing himself, he phones for help. I actually started taking painkillers. Each to their own. Without so many clichés, this could have been an excellent book.
Watch my video review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjBtUBJJ5nY