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. Determined to succeed at life--which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job--Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That's when things start to get crazy.
At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn't brilliant compared to the other kids; he's just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping--until, one night, he nearly kills himself.
Craig's suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness. For a novel about depression, it's definitely a funny story.
I was looking for something to read after The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I can't review Perks as it's one of the most poignant, beautiful books and quite possibly in my all-time favourites list so I would just burble on and then cry and no one wants that. So, on Amazon this book kept popping up in the, "People who bought this ..," section and it sounded interesting. It was a good buy. As the synopsis says, Craig was desperate to get into Executive Pre-Professional High School. It's so important to him that for a year he does nothing but study. Pretty much all of his friends except one fade away in his single-minded quest. Guess what? He got in as did his best and only friend Aaron. Except that Craig didn't look any further ahead than the day he got his acceptance letter. The realities of being in a high-achieving school make Craig question himself.
Craig's voice is both honest, raw and funny. The author (who has experience of being a patient in a psychiatric hospital) is able to document the unravelling of Craig's mind with such scary honesty that at times I felt anxious just reading it. Although depression is never easy to either talk about or treat I was caught up in the way that Craig had explained it to himself. He describes the many things that he needs to do to keep on top as, "tentacles," that are never ending, ever-reaching. As he thinks about all his tasks; emails, homework, extra credits, reading - the tentacles grown and a cycling builds up in his stomach. He finds it impossible to eat, sleep or function. All around him people ask if he's okay - but these are just empty words that fall around him. I wanted to be able to reach into the pages and make it all better for him but, of course, there is no quick fix where depression and anxiety are concerned.
After the, "suicidal episode," (which I won't describe but his thought processes broke my heart) Craig finds himself in a psychiatric ward where he has nothing to do except address his problems. He's not encouraged to make lasting friendships as these could hinder his recovery but in his time on the ward the people he meets shape the way he views his future. I'm aware that this all sounds pretty heavy and desperately sad but Craig's voice is what sucked me in. There was no way I could stop reading until I found out how it ended. The secondary characters are all fascinating in there own way. I spent most of the book furious with half of them and worried for the others. Huge questions are asked too about medicating teenagers, burn-out, the causes of stress and what happens to you if you get caught up in the mental health cycle. I found this story fascinating yet sad but also funny and hopeful. If you ever wanted to find out more about what goes on inside the head of a depressed person then this is the book. Also, if you ever wanted reassurance that what happens inside your head isn't unique to you - that you're not alone and things can get better then please read this.