Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting and believable
15-year-old Craig is having problems. He sees a psycho-pharmacologist and psychologist regularly, he takes Zoloft, smokes pot, can’t eat, and regularly listens to the militant voice in his head, which sounds like a drill Sergeant and treats him like a cadet. Craig is a brilliant young man, at least, he thought he was brilliant after earning a perfect score on the entrance exam to an elite pre-Professional High School in Manhattan; but, once he starts school, he realizes that he is not brilliant – he just works hard, and cannot manage anything higher than a 93% (and who in the world could be happy with 93%?). So, Craig – estranged from his friends, embarrassed at his stupidity, intimidated by the pressures of technology (e-mail, voicemail, online romances), and at a loss for any real connections or passions, decides he wants to kill himself. What ensues is a 2am chat with the 1-800-SUICIDE hotline, a walk-in admission to the local psychiatric hospital (though Craig doesn’t realize what the meaning of “admitted” is), and a five-day stay with a cast of delightfully strange characters. Over these five days, Craig learns how to do without the pressures and distractions of the outside world, he puts life into perspective, rediscovers a passion for art, meets a pretty girl, and comes to the conclusion that his problems have come placing enormous pressure on himself to do the best at everything – get the highest grades, get into the best school around- only, without any real desire or purpose. In the end, Craig (with a supportive family throughout) realizes that he should be in another school, doing what he loves and not what he believes is expected of him – he no longer wishes to be the President of the United States but, instead, an artist who can help others heal , changing lives in other ways.
3 – Characters well developed.
Craig and the cast of misfits in the Adult Psychiatric wing of the hospital (where Craig was placed, because the adolescent wing was closed for repairs) are all interesting and fun to watch. Craig, being the narrator and main character, is also the most highly developed of the bunch. Craig’s family is interesting and sweet, though relatively flat throughout (the interactions between Craig and his sister, and Craig’s sister and their father are always fun to watch, though). Craig’s friends are also under-developed, but this is acceptable because they turn out to be relatively shallow people, not there in any way for Craig when he may have needed them, so they get pushed to the sidelines as Craig heals. Each of the patients at the psychiatric hospital do have their own quirks and characteristics, though, which makes them fun and interesting to watch, in relationship to one another and in their interactions with Craig. The reader gets to know a few, to learn how they ended up there, and to see small steps of progress for a few (and steps back for others).
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.
A great positive for this book is that the prose and style are genuinely “Young Adult.” What I mean by that is, the book does not come across as if an adult were trying to write as a teenager, making attempts to sound younger, cooler, or more angst-filled. Instead, it just feels like a teenager is narrating the story – honest, nervous, bold, and confused in equal measure. The style made the story incredibly easy to read – it almost sucks you into the events taking place, so that 400+ pages flew by and suddenly I was at the end. It took me less than two days to read it, largely because the storyline was pushed along with such ease, thanks to the simple, humorous, easy-to-follow writing style. The chapters were broken down into manageable parts, the language was simple (not complicated, thankfully, by the presence of a brilliant narrator) while the themes were more elevated, so that the marriage between the ambitious storyline and the easy-going prose matched the attitude and nature of the story’s protagonist, a simple teenager with rather extraordinary capacity and talent.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
What I enjoyed most about this book were its honesty, its setting, and its overall intent. Vizzini is clearly making a point that children today are pressured at earlier and earlier stages in life to “figure it out” – to know who they are, what they want to do with their lives, and how they are going to get there, before they are even legally able to drive or vote. There is a dangerous trend, this story implies, that is putting our young people at risk of grim psychological damage and which also causes serious impacts on physical health, growth, and development. The parents in this book are idealized, almost to the point of being grotesques, but to demonstrate a point – adults need to be the ones who know what they are doing, and what kids are going through. Adults need to know how to guide the younger generations, to encourage exploration and healthy competition, but to know when to say “enough is enough.” It is a shame, and it is laudable that Vizzini, in such a funnily-serious way, attempts to bring these issues and concerns to light. This is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s-Nestfor today’s younger generation – and we should all be paying attention.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Young Adult
Interest: Coming-of-Age, Mental Health, Depression, Youth, Education, Family, Friendship, Art
“I don’t believe in destiny; I just believe in biology, and hotness, and wanting girls.”