Young Adult books seem to have a few formulas: divorce, unrequited love, death of a parent, self-transformation, and as of late... vampires. Oh... and angst. Usually always angst
. Sometimes these can be written quite loverly. As with the few that have been jostled around GR lately,Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
, The Book Thief
,I Am the Messenger
... These authors will come along and break, twist, switch it up...make.you.think.
And manage to rise above the whole stigma of what it means to be reading YA.
I think I found another one. Ned Vizzini.... I knew nothing of you prior to finding you on the GMBA (Green Mountain Book Award) list. And, well... that introduced me to Zusak, Foer, Vowell... So, I jumped in all willy nilly.
You didn't disappoint. In fact, you're one of those child prodigies---publishing your first book at 19. He began writing articles for The New York Times Press while still in school and continues to do so, getting an essay published in The New York Times Magazine….yeah, I hate you. It’s Kind of a Funny Story
centers on Craig Gilner, 15. Basic overachiever, two parent household, precocious little sister, privileged. Not someone that I usually bond with. But, the writing is so dead on… so unpretentious and raw. I loved it. Usually I’d be all ‘cry me a river, buddy’ but to watch this 15 yr old lose it. (Yes, I don’t put it quite so eloquently…deal)—You really get sucked in.
You get to think. How much pressure is there on kids to succeed? Did it start with my generation? I don’t remember the be all end all of my parents having to complete college. I come from a very blue collar situation, my father didn’t even finish junior high… Yet, it was ingrained in me to get into college and that if I didn’t, I’d be a nobody. A loser. Forget about making anything of yourself. Now it seems that even THAT is not enough. It has to be the right
college, with the right
grades (93s are average, my friend), you have to have the RIGHT extracurriculars… etc, etc.
Who wouldn’t break down? Craig’s disconnect reminds me of Oskar in Extremely Loud…he has his own terms… his own language. ‘Tentacles’ are the ‘evil tasks that invade life and then jut out into new tasks that lead to new ones that take him away from his original goal -‘Cycling’ is when his brain won’t shut down, it repeats each tentacle… which leads to the ultimate failure. A ‘fake shift’ is when you think that these issues are being resolved, but it’s only a front… a temporary reprieve. ‘Anchors’ are the items that hold him down… keep him safe.
He finally decides that he’s going to take the big leap off the Brooklyn Bridge…that this is the ultimate anchor, but instead finds himself self admitting into a psychiatric ward in a local hospital.
Here is where Craig shines, finds his voice. And it’s not overtly formulaic. You see yourself in this fucked up kid…you see how he can relate to amphetamine heads and transvestites and how he can reach back and truly find his anchor…which happens to be making ‘brain maps’--- drawing the streets, highways, bridges, traffic circles, chaos, order, symmetry, beauty that’s in all of us, wrapped around firing neurons and SSRIs and warped brain cells.
It’s truly beautiful. It’s funny, typical teenage boy shit and a joy to read. Sounds strange, but---not. Because this is life and it can suck and it can hurt and it can overwhelm and make you feel minuscule and that’s okay. Because every now and then ‘okay’ can be your anchor and maybe there will be less days when it will suck. When we realize, like said in this book ‘life can’t be cured, but it can be managed.’