Sunday, April 20, 2014

it's only kind of funny

I watched the movie version of this a few years ago and loved it - the characters seemed real & relatable, and it felt hopeful in a not-treacly Afterschool Special way. I wanted to get the novel then, and especially after a student - who had experienced a startling variety of mental health issues in the few years I'd known him - mentioned it was his favorite book. I finally remembered to look for it a couple months ago while shopping the Friends + Family 30% off Sale at Powell's in Portland; as I browsed and tried to remember every title I wanted in the history of publishing, this cover caught my eye, a stack of copies facing outward on the shelf. I vaguely registered the Staff Recommendation card tucked under the stack but as I stepped away, pleased with myself and considering how soon I could start gleefully reading, I noticed this written on the bottom of the recommendation card: "RIP Ned" 

Wait, what?

I knew the story was semi-autobiographical but it had ended well; Ned survived adolescence and a troubled young adulthood. I set the book in my basket and shakily Googled Ned Vizzini on my phone. My stomach lurched as I glanced over ugly words like "dead at 32" and "suicide" and "blunt force trauma." I wanted to not read entire sentences, as if that would make the facts untrue; as if I could bring him back by sheer force of disassociation.

It took me a few weeks to start reading this book. I was angry at the author - for taking his own life, for doing so in a particularly brutal manner, for leaving his parents and wife and child with questioning despair, for abandoning fans - I felt he had betrayed people like my former student who were inspired to stay alive by his once-positive outlook. I didn't want to read about his journey to a happy ending knowing the real ending was so awful.

But I wanted to revisit those characters who had captivated me in the movie version. I also thought reading about his experiences, even fictionalized, would help me understand him better. And, I guess, for what it's worth, forgive him. I know, intellectually, that mental illness is terribly complicated. I know it takes over all rational thought, that even when people are conscious of their mental illness, they still feel powerless over its demands. Emotionally, though, I just want people to keep fighting. I want them to fight and fight and fight until they win.

I read it. I loved it even more than the movie, which was quite satisfying, though the film's scene of patients singing 'Under Pressure' together is a soul-stunningly joyful addition. It took me longer to finish than most books I read because I kept setting it aside, postponing the end of my connection to its author.

Every word felt authentic - because essentially it was - and that anguished but hopeful teen boy voice haunts me. I want my son to read it, to see how other kids his age have the same overwhelming, terrifying, hopeless feelings he sometimes has; I want him to know how they deal with them, how they laugh at them, and how they can live through them.


Some people don't, no matter how much we wish they would.
No matter how much they wish they could.

Do, please, RIP Ned.

1 comment:

Babette said...

This is a book I have looked at several times, so that I could show my son that no matter what, he can make it through anything. Now that I know what happened to the author, and knowing that my son is a Google fanatic, I'm thinking it may not be such a great idea after all. I will still read it. I may, or may not, pass it on to him.


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