“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”
Craig is a an ambitious teen who strives for success. His dream comes true when he aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School… or so he thinks. Soon, the pressure to succeed overcomes him and he falls into depression.
After a near suicide attempt, Craig checks into the mental hospital, where he meets a cast of hilarious and fascinating characters, who teach him acceptance, compassion, and how to be human. (Young adult / 448 pages)
Firstly, I want to note that this is a semi-autobiographical tale: Ned Vizzini had suffered from depression himself, and he, like Craig, spent five days in a mental hospital.
This book speaks boldly on the topic of depression and suicide. Craig doesn’t beat around the bush or talk around it. He tells it as it is. He tells us that depression is like waking into a nightmare, or that depression starts slow, or that life can’t be cured, only managed. I believe that there should be more real talk about mental health in real life, that it shouldn’t be spoken in hushed whispers or kept secret because of stigma.
Novels like this are important because they normalize and de-stigmatize mental health. If I had depression, perhaps I could relate to Craig and feel understood and less alone. I don’t have depression, but I can now understand a bit more about what it is like if I did.
Despite the subject matter, I appreciate the author’s sense of humour. Depression and suicide are nothing to joke about. But the world, through Craig’s quirky point of view, is a funny one. There are moments that made me smile or laugh out loud. The author is able to walk a find line between light-hearted humour and the effect of depression on Craig’s mind.
Craig is a believable character. He has strengths and he has flaws, even though he himself is so fixated on his flaws early in the book that he doesn’t register his strengths. We don’t need to have depression to empathize. It is a delight to watch him grow and rediscover himself throughout this book.
The secondary characters are interesting, but underdeveloped. This may be because there are just so many of them and not enough pages to talk about them all. The other people in the mental hospital are fun and quirky and seem to have their own stories to tell. I would have loved to learn more about Craig’s family as well.
I love the portrayal of the mental hospital and the juxtaposition with real life. The mental hospital in this book is a more humane version of the one in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is also similar to the mental ward in the hospital I work at, so perhaps it is also more realistic in this day and age. This is important because this novel addresses some of the misconceptions that people may have about the psychiatric ward. It is not a volatile and scary place that people think it is. In fact, in this story, the mental hospital is a happy place where people are accepted for who they are and treated as equals. It is here where Craig learns to look at his life with a kinder perspective. Conversely, real life is where people judge and tear each other apart. Makes you wonder, who are the real crazies?
This book is a unflinching tale about depression, suicide, and the road to recovery. It is a must-read for anyone who is interested in mental health.
Have you read this book? If so, what do you think? What are your favourite books about mental health? Do you have any on your TBR?