It’s Kind of a Funny Story
by Ned Vizzini
About the book:
Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. So with single-minded determination, Craig works night and day to ace the entrance exam and gets in. Ironically, that’s when everything starts to unravel.
Once Craig starts at the new school he realizes a shocking truth. He is just one of the many brilliant kids who attend the school. In fact, he isn’t even brilliant, he is just average. As Craig starts getting so-so grades, he sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. Craig begins to have trouble eating, sleeping doing the routine things that used to be simple everyday activities. He eventually realizes he is clinically depressed.
So begins Craig’s battle with depression- which involves seeing a myriad of specialists, taking medication, and, at his most desperate, checking himself into a psychiatric hospital. There, Criag meets a motley crew of patients- from his roommate, who is afraid to leave their room, to a girl who has scarred her own face with a pair of scissors. But somehow this odd cast of characters start to seem more like real friends to Craig than anyone he has ever known. At the hospital, Craig is finally able to come to terms with the overwhelming pressures that come from the school, his friends and most of all, himself.
Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving and authentic picture of the physicality, the despair, and even the hilarity of depression.
About the author:
Ned Vizzini began writing for The New York Press at the age of fifteen. At nineteen, he had his first book published, Teen Angst? Naaah… His most recent book, Be More Chill, was the first young adult novel ever chosen as a Today Sho Book Club pick, as well as one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten Books for 2004. Ned lives in Brooklyn, New York.
- Why did you decide to be so open about your own experience with a psychiatric hospital?
- Do you think more teens today suffer with depression than ever before? Why?
- Was this a difficult book to write compared to your other novels? Why or why not?
- What advice would you give to young people who want to pursue publishing early? Do you think, overall, it’s a good idea?
- What can your fans look forward to next?
About the guide:
This guide includes discussion questions and projects intended to extend the use of the novel into classrooms, book clubs, and literature circles. It should promote discussion on the themes of the novel including depression, friendship, teen relationships, stress, and hope.
- The novel opens with the sentence: “It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself” How does this set the tone for the entire novel? What exactly does he mean by this? Should you take someone seriously who uses this kind of language?
- What does Craig describe as his “tentacles?” What types of things qualify as tentacles? Do all teens have them? Why or why not? What are the opposite of tentacles? Why are they only temporary?
- When do you think Craig’s slide into depression began? Do you think it was when he started the demanding high school or was his near obsession with getting in part of his decline? Defend your answer.
- What did Craig enjoy creating when he was young? Why did he always crumple them up when he completed them? What does it show you about his personality and his intelligence? Do you think all people have some kind of gift?
- What symptoms show that Craig’s depression is really serious? Is he able to function in the demands of normal life? In what areas does he really have trouble? How would you feel if you had these symptoms? What would you do? Who would you turn to for help?
- Describe the voice that Craig hears inside himself. Do you think this voice, or alter ego, is a good influence on his behavior? Why or why not? Why doesn’t he admit that he hears this voice? Do you think everyone has this type of dialogue with themselves or not?
- Who is Aaron? Do you think he is good for Craig’s depression? What types of things do they do together? What divides them? Do you think Aaron is a true friend? Why or why not? What defines a true friend?
- Reconstruct the decisions that lead to Craig’s decision to check himself into the hospital. How could it have turned out different? What options was he considering? Like his mom, do you think he was brave? What reasons does he convince himself not to commit suicide?
- What’s it like in Sixth North? Why is the physical description so important to Craig? What activities are he expected to participate in? Why? Do you think it would be frightening to be there? Why? Does Craig seem frightened?
- Describe Craig’s relationship with his family. Do you think it is typical? Is he lucky to have such supportive parents and a sister who adores him? Do you think his story would be different if this were not his family? How can teens overcome a less than ideal family structure if they, too, are depressed?
- Compare Nia to Noelle. How are they similar? How are they different? Which, do you think, is better for Craig? Do you think they have a chance on the outside? Why or why not? Do you think Craig is ready for any kind of relationship?
- Where do you think the turning point is for Craig’s recovery? How does he decide to participate in his own recovery? What perspectives does he gain in the psych ward that he couldn’t get in the real world?
- How does Craig change by the end of the novel? Do you think he will always battle depression or will he someday be completely cured? Predict what Craig will be doing in five years. In ten?
- What did you learn by reading Craig’s story? Do you think teens today suffer more with depression and other psychological disorders or they are just diagnosed more often? How do you know if someone needs help? How does someone who is depressed get the help they need?
- Do you find the ending hopeful? What creates a hopeful ending? Why do you think so many young adult novels lack this element? Do wek, as humans, need hope to survive? How can we build it?
Write a scene that comes one year after the close of the novel. Where is Craig? What is he doing? How has he changed? Will he still be in contact with Aaron? Nia? Noelle? Other people from Sixth North?
Create a piece of art inspired by Craig’s maps or veer off into undiscovered territory of your own. Keep repeating at least five pieces on the same theme and see how the art develops over time. Turn in all your drafts with a brief journal about what you learned.
Research the symptoms, warning signs and actions a person should take if they suspect someone they are close to is depressed or suicidal. Create an emergency cheat sheet to keep near your phone so you don’t have to dig through the municipal numbers like Craig did. Create a poster about what you learned.
Create a playlist that would be used for the soundtrack of It’s Kind of a Funny Story. What songs would you include? Why?