It's Kind of a Funny Review

Ned Vizzini. It's Kind of a Funny Story. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2006.


“It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not mental complaint—it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.” --- (It's Kind of a Funny Story, p.1)

Craig Gilner is a somewhat normal fifteen-year-old, except for one thing: he has chronic depression. Living up to the expectations of Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School --- which considers a 93% as failing --- is causing Craig to be so stressed that he stops eating and sleeping. This eventually leads him to nearly killing himself. His suicidal episode gets him checked in to a mental hospital where the people there are even more “normal” than he is. Yet, it is these people who help Craig to find himself, lose those "tentacles" (the complexities in life), and find an "anchor" (the simple things that make him happy) that will change his life. It is there the Craig is able to come face to face with his anxieties and deal with what has been truly bothering him head on.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is based upon Ned Vizzini’s personal past about his own experience of checking himself into a psychiatric hospital and the five days he spent there. His book delves into the darker topics of teen depression, sexuality, stress and drug use that occur for teenagers every day. Teenagers are not happy-go- lucky all the time; they are adolescents who experience a lot of the same problems as adults. Using laughter as a large way to cope with pressure, is what Ned Vizzini's insightful and utterly authentic novel is all about.The role of humor itself, being able to laugh and then realize that it's O.K., even necessary, to lighten up when things seem bad. Everyone can relate to this young adult read that inspires us to laugh at ourselves and even find hope in places that are least expected. To teach this novel in the classroom could create some awkward situations, such as bringing to light the pressures of using drugs, but it would be necessary to help students understand the pressures of life and how to deal with them without taking what they feel is the only way out. There are things in life worth living for, but the process to get there may cause some moments that all we can do is laugh at them and move on.

Recommendations for Teachers
It's Kind of a Funny Story follows Craig Gilner on his journey of depression, the stresses of life, and not only accepting help, but seeking help from a psychiatric ward in a Brooklyn hospital. Many students will be able to relate to Craig's depression and high school related stress, but, like Craig, will not be familiar with being admitted to a psychiatric ward. Due to the "tough stuff" this novel deals with, it would be better to introduce this story into an older, high school classroom setting. While teaching this novel, it is important to highlight the strength and bravery that comes with seeking help for your problems rather than submitting to them. Listed below are several activities teachers should implement while teaching this young adult novel.

  • Brain Maps: For this activity, you will have your students draw a series of their own Brain Maps.
  1. The first Brain Map, students will be doing a self portrait and they will only be allowed to use words; they could use a program like Wordle. They may draw their selected words or they may cut them out of magazines. The words that students will chose must be descriptive words about themselves.You could use prompts like these: What kind of words go around in your brain? How would you describe yourself? After the first Brain Map is completed, students will be required to write a 2-3 page reflection about their Brain Mapping experience. This paper should not be a further extension for the student to explain themselves or their Brain Map. This short paper allows the student to reflect on their own creative process and it allows them to relate back to Craig's Brain Mapping as described in the book.
  2. For the second Brain Map, students will be required to partner up with partners you, the teacher, has chosen. By having the students' partners already chosen, this will allows students to get to know different peers in the classroom. During this Brain Map, students will be drawing their partners and they will only be allowed to use images cut out from magazines. It is important to give a variety of magazines in order to give the students numerous options. Once the second Brain Map is completed, students will again be required to write a 2-3 page reflection about their experience. For this reflection students should not be entirely focused on their own creative experience, but also on their experience working with a partner and what they learned from them.
  3. For the third and final Brain Map, students will select someone from outside of the classroom to do a portrait of. This should be someone they know, such as a family member or close friend (preferably someone not in the class). Students must use maps like the ones Craig made to draw this portrait. It is important to bring in some maps to help students get a better idea of what maps actually look like. Students may name their subjects if they wish, but this is entirely up to the teacher. Once students have completed their final Brain Map, they must write a final 2-3 page reflection. This reflection should not only focus on their creative process, but also on whether they learned something new about their subject or even saw their subject in a different light. Students could also reflect on certain strengths or weaknesses they discovered while making this Brain Map.
  4. Once all three Brain Maps and reflections are done, you can go around the room and ask students which one was their favorite and why. Students should also be given the opportunity to hang their Brain Maps up either in the classroom or outside of it. You can chose to hang all three or you can post the favorite of each student. Then, as a class you can reflect on the entire Brain Mapping experience and discuss whether or not it was a good "Anchor". It could prove useful to reread pages 399 - 410, where Craig is drawing his Brain Maps for the other patients in Six North.

  • Anchors and Tentacles: For this activity students will be required to do a week-long daily journal about what their Anchors and Tentacles are for each day. You could check this daily assignment by looking in their journals at the progress they are making. This assignment is meant to be a reflective piece about students' lives and it allows them to better relate to Craig's Anchors and Tentacles. When you are introducing this assignment, you could reread pages 9 - 19, where Craig describes a therapy session with Dr. Minerva and he talks about his Anchors and Tentacles. You could use the week-long daily journals as a first step into the process of the students writing a 4 - 6 page personal essay. In the personal essay, students must continue with the theme of Anchors and Tentacles. The personal essay will allow students the chance to closely examine their own lives and perhaps work through their problems. You could provide some workshop days where students could ask for help developing their own stories.

  • Research Paper: For this paper, students will be required to write a 4-6 page research paper about depression in adolescents. This will require a minimum of 5 sources and a Bibliography to cite them. In the book, the students followed Craig's journey of healing from depression and discovered some of the more painful physical attributes that often come along with depression. This assignment will hopefully introduce students to the real pain that comes with all forms of depression. The research paper would be better served in an older classroom, such as for juniors or seniors in high school. Due to the fact that the subject of this research paper is challenging, be sure to keep in open contact with both students and parents in case they would have any questions regarding the assignment. This assignment could also be easily adapted to a Psychology or Sociology high school class.

  • Newspaper or Magazine Clippings and Reflections: You, the teacher, bring in either one or two newspaper or magazine articles regarding depression in teenagers. After reading the articles aloud to the students, you will give the students a writing prompt. For the first writing prompt you will ask students how the articles made them feel. Give students at least five minutes to respond thoughtfully. For the second writing prompt you will ask students what they could do to help someone with depression. Give students an appropriate amount of time to respond. Finally, for the last writing prompt you will ask students what they could do to make other teens more aware of depression and how to fight it. After students have completed responding, you could open the floor for a class discussion. This will allow students a chance to voice their own opinions or ideas regarding depression. As a final challenge for your students and as homework, you could ask your students to come up with a thorough plan to spread awareness about depression in their school. A successful plan would encompass details of each step they would have to take to implement the plan in their school and maybe in their community, such as seeking the principles permission to hang up posters or banners, the tools required to make said posters or banners, and so on. The purpose of this challenge would be to show that they, like Craig, can make a difference. Students can promote a change and not only in their own lives.

  • Book ​Review:​ For this activity, students will be required to write a book review about It's Kind of a Funny Story. This book review will include: information/introduction about the book, a decision on whether the book was good or not with reasoning, information about the author, pictures of both the author and the book, and additional links that could be video or audio about the book. You could create a wikispace page tailored for the class you're teaching and use the wiki book review forum or you could create your own forum. This project will be done online and will require in class computer lab time. The audience for this project will not only be you, the teacher, but also to their peers.

  • Epilogue: For this project, students will be asked to write an epilogue. To introduce this project, you could give the students a writing prompt and ask what they thought Craig would be doing two weeks after getting out of Six North. After giving an appropriate amount of time to respond, introduce the larger project. Students will be required to write a 4-6 page epilogue that takes place six months after Craig leaves North Six. Students can write from Craig's perspective, but if they would like a challenge, students could write from the perspective of Noelle, Craig's parents or sister, or Dr. Minerva. If students wish to write from a different perspective than Craig's, it would be a good idea to have them meet with you first or have the student explain what they plan to do with that different perspective. To give an added creative flair to the epilogue, students may add an image or drawing as well; however, it is not a requirement.

  • Reporting from Six North: For this project, students will become reporters! Students will be given a scenario where they are reporters from a local Brooklyn newspaper and they will be reporting on the Psychiatric wing, Six North, in the Argenon Hospital. Students will be asked to review the level of care patients receive, the type of environment Six North is, if there was sufficient staff, the food, and so on. This might be difficult for some students to get into, so some in class work time would probably prove helpful.Also, it would be good to review basic guidelines for reporting rather than analytical or creative writing. At first, students will be required to write a 2 page report on Six North. After the 2 page requirement is met, students will then be required to rewrite their report and minimize it to 500-700 words, keeping only the information that is critical for reporting about Six North. This project could also be adapted for a journalism class.

About Ned Vizzini
external image 220px-Ned_Vizzini.jpg

A common rule for fiction writers is "write what you know." It's Kind of a Funny Story is about a fifteen-year-old who checks himself in to a psychiatric ward. The book was originally written December 10th, 2004 to January 6th, 2005, a week after Vizzini was released from a five-day stay in Methodist Hospital, Park Slope, Brooklyn, at the ripe age of 23.

Ned Vizzini, born Edison Price Vizzini, is a Young Adult author and renowned speaker. Born on April 4, 1981, Vizzini grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York. At the age of fifteen, Vizzini began his career as a writer for the New York Press. In his adolescence, Vizzini was published in The New York Times Magazine. The articles he wrote for The New York Times Magazine would later appear in his auto-biography, Teen Angst? Naaah.... To date, Vizzini has written four books including his auto-biography, and has co-authored House of Secrets with author Chris Coloubus. Among his other titles are Be More Chill and The Other Normals, which is set to be released in October 2012. Vizzini's book It's Kind of a Funny Story is now a major motion picture. Vizzini has also written for The L Magazine and The Daily Beast. MTV's Teen Wolf: Season Two was penned by Vizzini as well. Based on his experiences in Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Vizzini's books are true to the young adult experience of life. On Vizzini's official page, Vizzini states that the book It's Kind of a Funny Story is 85% true. His only alterations were character names, Craig's age, and the addition of the love triangle. Today, Ned Vizzini offers workshops to both high school and college students called "How Not to Go Crazy." To schedule a visit from Ned to your school, visit his website or contact Gotham Artists.

Videos to Check Out

The following YouTube clips are all related to Ned Vizzini and the book It's Kind of a Funny Story.

This brief clip shows one of Ned Vizzini's presentations about mental health and includes his three tips on handling stress.

The video below features Ned Vizzini reading excerpts from It's Kind of a Funny Story.

The following four clips are one high school's dramatic interpretation and performance of It's Kind of a Funny Story.

Additional Resources for Teachers, Parents, and Students:

About Ned Vizzini
Ned Vizzini's Official Website This link takes you straight to a website all about Ned Vizzini, such as latest book and author news, FAQs, and workshops.
Ned's Blog This link connects directly to Ned's personal blog, "Rockets in the Night".

Book Reviews
New York Times This link goes to the New York Times' review of the book.
Teenreads Review Here's a review of It's Kind of... from a young-adult literature website.

Teenreads Interview This is an interview with Ned about It's Kind of a Funny Story.
Figment Interview By clicking on this link you'll be transported to a general interview with Ned Vizzini, ranging from everything from writing processes to people-watching.

Lesson Ideas
Discussion Guide A link to a discussion guide for the story.
Wild Geese Guides This link will take you to a webpage devoted to lesson plans and ideas for teaching the novel.

On Tough Stuff
Teen Depression This site is geared towards adults, educating about teen depression.
Stress Management Clicking here will take you to a webpage giving ideas to teens about handling stress in their lives.
Reach Out This site shares stories and testimonials of teenagers dealing with difficult issues.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline This site contains information on getting help, including learning about mental health, live chat, and getting involved in educating others.

-- This page created by Kyle Letot, Gail Berkompas, Samantha Reeves, and Paige Pierog. Check out their reviews for Veronica Roth's Divergent and Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793.