Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life – which means getting into the right high school to get into the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He 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, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
My Goodreads rating: 4 stars
I can’t stress enough the importance of books such as this one. Mental illness is a topic that I’ll continue talking about until it gets the full recognition it deserves, and books such as this, with teenage protagonists experiencing issues with their mental heath, are so important. I really, really enjoyed this book. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me rethink some things in life. And it made me want to get up and do something important, something fulfilling and worthwhile. It’s THAT kind of book.
I love the standpoint that this book takes. Craig is depressed and he knows it. Enough to want to die one day, in the middle of the night. But does he do it? No. He gets himself checked into a hospital because he knows that he can’t really trust his own decision. This is such an important outlook on a dangerous situation; it often feels like books or films about suicide jump straight to the dark deep end, the extremes, and the alternatives are never considered. Some people DO stop and seek help. Some people DO get “better”, or as close to that as they can. And most importantly, not every single thing and person in life is an active agent in depression.
Parents and guardians are capable of being compassionate and caring. They aren’t always portrayed this way in novels. Depressed people can have good relationships with their therapists. Therapists aren’t always these clueless robots who have to be hated by a mentally ill person. They also aren’t always portrayed this way in novels. I liked how Craig wasn’t hating on every single thing in his life. He is depressed, but like many depressed people, he knows that people are trying to help. This message is important. Often, when books about mental illness are published, it feels like everything is set up to act against the protagonist. And I get it; for many individuals, almost everything in life turns out negative. But sometimes, our parents aren’t monsters. Sometimes, we can be depressed and appear to have everything going for us. We’re like Craig; in a great school, with a solid group of friends, and with an apparently bright future ahead. And this makes it that much harder to show people that things aren’t okay. So I liked that Craig acknowledged this, found the help he needed and took a brighter outlook on his situation. Even if he started at the lowest possible point.
I look at myself in the bathroom light. Yes, I’m okay. I’m okay because I have a plan and a solution. I’m going to kill myself.
He isn’t fixed. But he decides to start trying. And sometimes that makes all the difference. Craig discovers that he can cut out the negatives. He discovers that art helps him be happy. Sometimes we need to find that anchor that allows us to appreciate ourselves as people who matter.
If Bobby can get a place to live, I think, then I can get a life worth living.
Oftentimes, there isn’t a happy ending. But I hugely appreciate the times when there is. And we need more of those stories told. And I feel that this book did that. It’s a great book, and it reminds me of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. There are some great characters, some great, heartfelt friendships, and a teenager who learns to realise that there is more to life than the anxiety he has allowed to take over his thoughts. I recommend this book to everybody.
Talk. Talk to people. Read. Read maps. Make maps. Make art.
Meet. Love. Dance. Win. Smile. Laugh.
Live. Live. Live. Live.