I read this book as part of #MentalHealthWeek in 11-17th May.* One of the reasons I participated is because of the huge unawareness of the inequality of the quality of treatment for MH issues. As part of #MentalHealthWeek the Wellcome Trust investigates the spending on Mental Health compared to cancer. Both diseases are statistically likely to affect 1 in 4 people, but people with MH issues have £9.27 spent on them, next to £1,571 for cancer. The biggest killer of men under 50 is suicide. Yes, cancer is terrible and I lost someone I loved most dearly to cancer, but I also lost someone to suicide, which probably would have been prevented with better NHS funding.
*Yes, I know it is June <insert excuse here>. Better late than never anyway.
Rating: 2 stars out of 5 (meaning this book was OK but had major downfalls)
On the surface, this should be a book I enjoyed. It focuses on Craig, an American schoolboy 'who tries to kill himself' and is admitted into a psychiatric ward. There was and is a lot of praise for this award-winning book and given that Ned Vizzini died in 2013 I have to say I am very reluctant to review this because I didn't enjoy it.
For me, the stand out positive feature was that Craig was very relatable. I could relate to his worries about academic performance and the pressure that school/universities create especially with the fact that workload can easily snowball once you fall behind. It does nicely highlight how the spiral of depression can begin and some of the difficulties caused by living with depression. (Because everyones experience of MH issues and symptoms are different there is never going to be a 'catch-all' book describing every type of symptom.) There was also a good diversity of characters.
Now to the negatives. A few parts I found boring and I have to admit to resorting to speed-reading to simply get the book out of the way (I'm not a fan of DNFs). My other gripe was a few throwaway comments that made me deeply uncomfortable e.g. comparing anorexics with skeletons in closets. I am sure the author meant no offence but either way, I found them crude/cringeworthy. I will admit when it comes to MH issues I am overly sensitive/critical. It does really eff me off when people trivialise MH illnesses e.g. by saying that they are 'OCD' because they clean up straightaway.*
A more subjective/personal possibly cultural point. I agree with Stephen King's On Writing when he says that dialogue attribution (such fancy terminology) should be kept simple in terms of "he said"/"she said". Vizzini used "he's like" and it really grated on my nerves. It was like listening to a good song with random scratches in; it definitely detracted from the novel.
I am sure that other people will enjoy this book and it will help them, but this isn't one for me.
Postscript: This book prompted a fascinating discussion on a Facebook group and I feel that the complexity of writing on MH is often overlooked. The complexity/worry is this: a author can write on MH with a straightforward happy but risk their book being criticised as 'naïve', 'unrealistic' or 'fairytale-like'. On the other hand, an author can portray MH as a lifelong struggle but risk causing despair and a feeling of hopelessness in a reader which could have fatal consequences. It is a very fine line between these two extremes and perhaps authors of MH carry a greater burden of responsibility than others.
Original publication: 2006
*There is a movement to stop using 'gay' as an insult, and rightly so, but there isn't a similar one for MH e.g. that person is 'mad', a 'schizo' or a 'psychopath. People with MH are far more likely to be victims than they are criminals, and if they are criminals it is probably because the system has failed them. I am pretty sure you know all this already so I am going to leave it there.