Author: Ned Vizzini
Publication Date: 3. April 2007
Diversity: mental illness, PoC, LGBT characters
Rating: 1./5. Stars
TW: suicidal ideation, drug abuse, transphobia, casual homophobia, racism, sexism, sexual assault mention
Summary: 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.
Ned Vizzini, who himself spent time in a psychiatric hospital, has created a remarkably moving tale about the sometimes unexpected road to happiness.
I really wanted to like this book. I truly, really wanted to. An ownvoices book about a depressed teenager which I heard had a happy ending? Hell yeah!
However, this book is very Hell No and here’s why:
– so much transphobia: there’s a trans woman in the book. Why? We don’t know. She’s a sex addict, really creepy and loves to hit on straight guys. She plays no role in the bigger storyline and she’s really only there to be insulted and then quickly removed from the psychiatric ward. Oh, and every single character in the book misgenders her. They say he/she/it or use her Deadname when referring to her. Even later in the book the MC is glad he’s kissing a ~real~ girl. A real girl is of course only one that does not have an Adam’s Apple. There is no ~oh, he’s a 15-year-old cishet boy, who comes from a sheltered home, he made a stupid mistake and he will learn~. NOPE. He’s constantly encouraged in his transphobia, even by adults who should know better. Now you might wonder: But why should that be such a big problem? There are assholes in this world, they exist, why does everything have to be so PC these days? Well, the answer is easy. This book is marketed as a book that has a light take on depression. A book that will show you light in the future if you suffer from depression, a book that will show you that there is a future for you and that you will get better. But don’t forget: Only if you’re cishet. Trans people deserve nothing but mockery and scorn and gay people don’t even exist in the scope of the book. Gay is only used once to tell us it definitely doesn’t mean someone attracted to the same gender, but instead something that’s bad or mushy like skipping hand in hand with the person you’re in love with. That’s gay!
– Love Cures All: So you wanted a realistic story about overcoming depression? Well though luck my friend. Go to the mental hospital, take some pills that normally take weeks to show any effect, make out with two girls and have sex with one of them. Tada, you’re now a perfectly healthy teenage boy after just 5 days. Or are you the love interest, who has been sexually assaulted (mentioned in one sentence (we don’t even know what happened to her, but it was terrible, but also it caused no trauma at all, all those other weak people who can’t deal with that this way are just too weak), bc of course something like that has no influence on your life)? Because well then you’re soooo lucky, bc you will meet a boy and want to have sex with him in 3 days and you will be miraculously happy forever.
– Flat Female Character: No, I don’t mean their chests, those are actually not flat, which is mentioned a lot of times. But the character’s themselves are flat. The two Love Interests (Nia and Noelle) actually have 4 emotions: Craig kiss with me/have sex with me, Craig I’m angry at you, Craig I’m sad, Craig I love you. And yeah, that’s it. Craig actually only sees them as hot and constantly thinks about how he wants to kiss them. Sometimes he’s angry at Nia, but he still wants to do her. It’s nice to see so much insight into the female personality.
– Casual Racism: Nia, Craigs first love interest, is Asian. Which means she’s tiny, has big eyes, is apparently freak in bed and is called “The Asian Persuasion”, which – yup, you guessed it – is never challenged either. Like I mentioned before she is also really flat, except that she’s a bit of a Bitch too. And Craig knows nothing about her. Even though he’s supposed to be Head Over Heels for her. Uhm, yeah sure.
-Unrealistic: Like I mentioned before Craig’s depression is cured almost immediately after he goes to the mental hospital. He’s fine after he got with Noelle. He befriends literally every single person in the hospital (except Jennifer, because trans women are gross!!), but suuure, he’s not good at making friends. While positive portrayals of getting better while dealing with mental illnesses are important, something as unrealistic as that is not really a good way or portraying mental health issues. What about people who have depression, are suicidal and don’t get better after five days? What about people who need to try many different pills before they find one that works? What about the depressed trans kids who only get to see themselves as the most disgusting person in this story?
So yeah, that’s my disappointed and also kind of angry review for this book.
While the portrayal of depression in the first half of the novel was quite well done, the second half of the novel ruined pretty much everything, not only by making Craig an unlikeable dick, but also by rushing through it way too fast, portraying an unrealistic recovery from year long depression.
Anyways, if you want a good book about an MC with depression, a book that’s ownvoices AND diverse, check out Shatterproof by Xen Sanders, which actually has a sensitive portrayal of depression and mental illness. Trigger warnings for suicide attempt, suicidal ideation and character death (not MC).