A Certain Kind Of Funny
A mature contemporary YA, set in New York City. The story is told in first-person present-tense, exclusively from the perspective of a young teen named Craig—who is struggling with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. After a particularly bad night, he opts to check himself into the psychiatric floor of a local hospital. The book encompasses his 5-day stay, and pondering flashbacks to the year leading up to this turn of events.
"I used to not want to call them Shrinks, but now that I've been through so many, I feel entitled to it. It's an adult term, and its disrespectful, and I'm more than two thirds adult and I'm pretty disrespectful, so what the hell."
The writing is spare, candid, and vaguely snarky; affirming of the first-person narrative. Craig is passable as an overachieving, anxiety-addled, and sexually frustrated 15-year-old boy. His world is very small and self-centric, while his actual sense of self is severely lacking. He still manages to remain a somewhat sympathetic character for much of the book. (Craig’s few shining moments come predominantly when he’s distracted from himself by the idea of helping out a few of his co-residents during his brief voluntary commitment stay.)
The first 155 pages were a quick and compelling read. I was surprised it took us that long to finally get to the hospital, where I assumed things would get even more interesting. But oddly… that’s where everything slowed down and started to feel more over-written. The air of anguished authenticity petered out—replaced by an atmosphere of patient quirkiness. Craig’s preoccupation turned largely from his reason for being committed to a peculiar combo of do-goodery, and his quest for a sexual outlet (i.e. girlfriend.)
My favorite aspect of this book is the maps. Not just the creative angle, although seeing a character find a productive and healthy coping mechanism is certainly a plus. I particularly appreciated the way it was visually worked into both the cover and the beginning of each chapter. Since the main character does so much mental cycling and wandering, it tied the work together with effective consistency.
Note: I actually saw the movie first. And I’m sorry to admit… I liked it better than the book. The pacing was much tighter, and the movie bolsters some of Craig’s issues with the external pressure of his father being myopic and educationally pushy at inappropriate times.
In the book, however, even Craig notes he doesn’t have any obvious reason for his melancholy state. His parents are “good people”—his mother being exceptionally attentive, and his little sister intuitively keyed to her big brother’s distress. He’s never been abused or molested. And while his parents were to his mind “poor” when he was very young, their financial state has since improved considerably. Craig’s problems instead seem to stem from a poor choice in friends, self-induced academic anxiety, rampant pot usage, sexual repression, aimlessness… and his more recent suicidal ideation most certainly stems from the fact that he’s decided to stop taking his Zoloft prescription cold turkey.
(Which, I will give both the book and movie credit for. They repeatedly make it clear that suddenly stopping a psyche drug is a bad idea. Though, from a medical standpoint, I wish they would have bothered to explain WHY that is.)
The most off-putting aspect of this book, at least for me, is the quasi-romance that’s struck up between Craig and a girl he meets while hospitalized. It is alluded to that Noelle is there because of self-harm, but the few scenes in which they are attempting to get to know each other never came particularly close to convincing this reader of anything but the most shallow of connections. (i.e. they happen to be the same age, and have severe issues with anxiety/depression.) Readers never find out much about either of Craig’s “love”-interests. Both Noelle and Nia come across as concerningly one-dimensional. It’s unclear whether this is because of Craig’s extremely limited perspective, or because there simply wasn’t much thought put into fleshing them out.
Content Note: While the main character is on the young end of the YA target audience, the book makes frequent casual (albeit largely non-graphic) references to drinking, drug use, and sexual acts between 14 and 15-year-olds.