To live in the world as a teenager today is more difficult than ever before. According to the recent American Psychological Stress in American survey, teenagers are the most stressed out age-group in America and are most likely to develop stress related health problem. For fifteen year-old Craig Gilner, this statistic was already abundantly clear when he spoke of his studying habits, “I work, and I think about work, and I freak out about work, and think about how much I think about work, and I think about how freaked out I get about how much I think about how much I work. Does that count as a hobby?”
Craig’s story, as told by author Ned Vizzini, revolves constantly around the stresses of being fifteen in today’s society, and how those stresses play a big role in rising levels of teens with anxiety and depression. Vizzini, who actually struggled with depression until he took his own life at age 32, wrote this book with the intention to show people how the world appeared to him throughout his life, more specifically when he was young. Though filled with heavy emotion, this book was written beautifully and honestly through the eyes of a real person who was depressed, resulting in the novel becoming 56th in the “Top 100 Teen Books of All Time” list, as well as a major motion picture.
Growing up, Craig finds himself as a prodigious student, excelling at everything he does. He works hard, studying day and night to take a test to get into the local prep school in the nicer part of New York City, also known as not his side of town. However, when he gets in, he finds himself realizing that he should have been careful what he wished for. “Not to say I did terrible in high school-” says Craig, “I got 93’s. That looked good to my parents. Problem is, in the real world, 93 is a crap grade; colleges know what that means- you do just well enough to stay in the 90’s. You’re average.” Giving in under all the pressure, he soon falls further and further behind on homework, sliding into a deep depression, and in consequence, begins to hang out with the in-crowd of bad kids in school. Looking for acceptance and having always been a social outcast, he depends on these kids to make him feel better about himself; however, they only pull him further from his school work and into a blurred life of drugs and partying.
After quite the build up of stress and bad choices, Craig finds ends up checking into the hospital down the street shortly following his call to a suicide hotline. The doctors check him into Six North, a psychiatric hospital, where he learns that his depression, though a serious mental disorder, is no match for the other patients on this sixth floor. Craig must stay in the hospital for a while to overcome his depression, where he meets people from many different walks of life: ex-drug addicts, someone who is afraid that gravity will stop working, self-proclaimed presidents and professors, a man who calls himself “human being”, and a few people who are just plain crazy, like the pretty girl with cuts on her face, Noelle.
Throughout Craig’s stay, Vizzini takes readers on an emotional ride, almost as if they are experiencing the journey along with him. After many ups and downs, the audience is finally revealed to the complete transformation of his thought process; it slowly becomes more and more of a positive outlook. The first glimpse of this is when he tells Noelle, “Everybody has problems. Some people just hide their crap better than others. But people aren’t going to look at you and run away. They’re going to look at you and think that they can talk to you, and that you’ll understand, and that you’re brave, and that you’re strong. And you are. You’re brave and strong.” At this moment, Craig’s words not only describe what he feels about Noelle, but what he also feels about himself.
Craig eventually learns to be appreciative of his life and to make decisions that make him feel in control. He becomes more selective in his friends, switches into an art school where he’s happier, and falls for a girl who teaches him that beauty and scars are more than skin deep. Vizzini, a highly-praised writer of many teen novels about depression and anxiety, made a great point when he wrote this book: that we only truly fail when we fail to make ourselves happy. He wrote this book in a way that makes readers feel as if they are befriending the main character himself, through all of his witty jokes, clever descriptions, and dark thoughts. For anyone looking for a great read, I highly suggest this book. For those of you looking for something that goes deeper than that, this book was written for you.