I’ll Show You My Compulsions If You Show Me Yours: OCD Love Story

A Review of OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Hayduby REBECCA, July 29, 2013

hook

Bea knows she’s a bit messed up—ever since “the incident” last year, she’s been seeing a therapist—but she thinks she’s got things pretty much under control. Heck, she even met a boy at a school dance recently! But now Dr. Pat wants her to join a therapy group for teens with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As Bea starts a relationship with Beck her own OCD begins to spiral out of control.

worldview

OCD Love Story is contemporary realism, but because we see the world through Bea’s eyes, we see it through the lens of her obsessions and compulsions. Bea has never thought of her behaviors in terms of OCD. Sure, she gets really fixated on things sometimes—her ex-boyfriend, a story about a teen’s death, sharp things—but she thinks of it as one of her many quirks, like the scrapbooks where she collects news reports of murders, or the detailed notes she takes about people. And, ok, maybe it is a lot harder to drive lately, since she can’t go faster than 30 miles an hour and has to circle back multiple times to make absolutely sure she hasn’t hit anyone, but she’s just being careful, right? Responsible.

This is Bea’s daily life, but when Dr. Pat gives her a pamphlet—and, thus, a diagnosis—of OCD, Bea suddenly has a whole new vocabulary to describe her behaviors. And she doesn’t like it one bit. Because now she’s exactly what she’s never wanted to be: crazy. Too crazy to be loved, perhaps, and definitely too crazy for her best friend, Lisha, who’s been her rock forever.

When she joins therapy group, she thinks she doesn’t belong. Come on: these people pull their hair out and pick at their faces and tap and wash their hands; her obsessions are just intense and her compulsions charming. Right? But, little by little, Bea’s obsession with two of Dr. Pat’s other patients (Austin and Sylvia, whose lives seem glamorous and perfect) amplifies and she finds her thoughts and behaviors spiraling dangerously out of her control. It’s like being in group with these people is making her crazier!

what were this book’s intentions? does it live up to them?

Maybe it was the color palette of the cover, or maybe the phrase “love story” in the title, but I started OCD Love Story expecting a sweet romance (and, thus, wasn’t particularly excited about it). To my delight, this is not the case. First-time novelist Corey Ann Haydu delivers a harrowing portrait of the effects of OCD on Bea’s life.

I loathe with a passion the kind of books and movies where the entire drama derives from the protagonist making a torturous series of mistakes and obviously terrible choices (Meet the Parents! et al). OCD Love Story might seem, at first, to follow a similar pattern: a girl acts in ways that the reader can tell are terrible and it torments us. To the contrary, Haydu crafts a story where I both felt subject to the whims of Bea’s compulsions but was also able to experience the micro-drama of her attempts to resist them and her frustration when she’s unable to do so. As a result, I felt exhausted right along with Bea when she’s in the grip of a compulsion, but was so intrigued by their content that I felt compelled too!

Bea’s relationship with Beck was particularly interesting to me—and a smart conceit on Haydu’s part. Beck’s obsessions—with the number eight—and compulsions—working out, hand-washing—are, on the surface, the opposite of Bea, who is a bit sloppy and frazzled. But both of them are, at root, concerned about safety. Bea is convinced that she is dangerous and will hurt someone; Beck is convinced that if he can get strong enough perhaps he can retroactively save someone he’s lost. The result of his compulsions is that Beck has a really hulked-out upper body that seems at odds with his sad eyes and sweet, tentative personality. But for Bea, his physical strength makes him appealing precisely because he seems like someone she won’t be able to harm as easily. Of course, the story gives the lie to this correlation between physical and emotional invulnerability, and learning this is part of Bea’s journey.

Their relationship raises really interesting questions about ideas of masculinity and femininity that are at the center of OCD Love Story and were, I thought, the most accomplished (although subtle) element of the novel. Most novels about love and relationships explore the ways that we negotiate among our solitary selves and who we become in relationships. OCD Love Story portrays people who sometimes have very little choice but to show things about themselves that other characters might keep hidden. Bea, for one, has a compulsion to tell the truth, which isn’t terribly conducive to a smooth first date; things like telling Beck that his shirt is too tight and confessing that her meds give her wicked night sweats. How Bea navigates the shark-infested waters of the truth—does she stand by it, apologize for it, act like it’s normal, etc.?—is another particularly interesting element of OCD Love Story. The psychology behind Bea and Beck’s obsessions and compulsions is deftly handled and, while the ending is bit abrupt, Bea’s insights at the climax ring very true.

All in all, Haydu writes a dramatic story about OCD rather than allowing the inherent drama of OCD determine the story. I was pleasantly surprised!

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story is available now.

Death Shall Have No Dominion: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

madnessunderneath

The Madness Underneath

Shades of London 2

Maureen Johnson

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013

Review by Tessa

Characters

Rory Deveaux, transplanted private schooler, ghost-interacter-and-destroyer

Stephen Dene, head of the secret ghost division of the London Police

Callum & Boo, the other two members of the secret police squad

Jazza, Jeremy & Charlotte – school friend, boyfriend, and frenemy

Jane – a mysterious and almost supernaturally calming therapist who provides her services for free

Hook

The Ripper-emulating ghost re-terrorizing London has been destroyed, but not without weird consequences.

Worldview

In The Name of the Star, Rory learns that the world is a little different than the normal world we all live in. It’s still normal, but some people can see and interact with ghosts–as long as you have the natural inclination and add a near-death experience into the equation.

Rory’s a fish out of water, being a ghost-seer, and a fish out of water, being a Louisiana native trying to hack it in a London boarding school for her senior year. Her snarky sense of humor helps her deal with all the weirdness being thrown her way, as well as her natural curiosity. Occasional drama-free makeout sessions don’t hurt, either.

nameofthestar

However, the situation of figuring out the ghost-mystery-murders almost seems easier than the situation of picking herself up in the aftermath of the murders. Rory is failing school after spending time with a therapist and her parents in Bristol. She’s now a human terminus – her touch destroys ghosts – and the police want to use her as a clean-up tool for London’s ghostly lurkers, since the original diamonds used for the purpose went kaput. But she doesn’t know how she feels about being the post-Grim Reaper Reaper. Worst of all, she can’t confide in her friends, her boyfriend, or her parents about what’s really going on in her life.

On top of it all, the ghosts around London, especially around Rory’s school, are upping the ante on being angry and causing bloodshed. Rory thinks it might have something to do with what the area used to house, who was buried there, and maybe the crack that opened up in the earth when the faux-Ripper got terminated.

Then she’s fortuitously led to a laid-back, rich woman named Jane who’s been helping stuck-up Charlotte deal with her own Ripper trauma. Jane practices for free, always has brownies to offer Rory, and finally Rory can almost relax. Or should she?

Does this book live up to its intentions?

Johnson writes delicious hook-y adventures and her sense of humor is one that I enjoy. The Madness Underneath has all of these qualities and some shivery moments, too.  I admired Rory’s feistiness in the face of depression and loved getting back to the foggy, twisty streets of her neighborhood.  Johnson is very good at writing place – enough detail but not too much – and I could effortlessly picture where Rory was going (even if I can’t stop picturing Rory as Alexis Bledel).

Rory!!! photo by flickr user GabboT

Rory!!! photo by flickr user GabboT

The Madness Underneath definitely a second novel in a series of more than two books. Rory’s in transition and trying desperately to ignore that she might be in free fall. She tries to be normal but her life is breaking into some pretty clear paths. She has to decide what she wants and why, from boyfriends to future career plans. But there doesn’t seem to be space to think.

If anything, the book moves too fast, and, like The Name of the Star, drops off at a really crucial moment. The mystery that starts the book gets solved pretty quickly by Rory and the ghost squad, and then just as quickly is subsumed in a new, bigger mystery with sinister implications – really intriguing, culty, conspiratorial ones.

Then Johnson jabs us with two big knocks of the Plot Fist and closes the book. It happens so fast I don’t even know what I think of those developments yet.

Maybe I should’ve waited another year or so to read 2 & 3 in succession.

Readalikes

Want more ghost-exploring?

Try Karina Halle!

Darkhouse An Experiment in Terror Karina Halle

For the same traveling-in-a-new-place-and-discovering-otherworldy-things feel, try these:

Witch Eyes

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

peregrineriggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

greatandterriblebeauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

diviners

The Diviners by Libba Bray

possessed   Consumed
Possessed / Consumed by Kate Cann

A Review of Hushed by Kelley York

Entangled Publishing, 2011

Hushed Kelley York

by REBECCA, November 19, 2012

characters

Archer: a thoughtful loner who will go to any lengths for Vivian, the best friend he adores

Vivian: a beautiful manipulator with a troubled past and a cruel streak where Archer is concerned

Evan: the sweet new guy, who likes Archer and wants to have a real relationship

the hook

Archer and Vivian have been best friends since they were kids. Now, in college, Vivian is really Archer’s only friend, and their relationship is on her terms. Archer goes along with it because something horrible happened to Vivian . . . and he thinks he might be able to make it right. But will trying to make Vivian happy cost him the only person who’s ever really loved him?

worldview

Yowza! I believe that this is what those in the biz would call a “dark” book. For Archer, the world begins and ends with Vivian, his best friend—he’s comforted her, laughed with her, lusted after her . . . and killed for her. Indeed, he’s not sure he even knows who he is outside of his co-dependent relationship with Vivian. Until, one day, he meets Evan, a sweet guy who goes to school with him and lives in his apartment complex. Evan is steady, calm, and (despite Evan’s anti-social awkwardness) seems to like Evan for who he is, which most people do not. As Archer begins spending more time with Evan, he slowly comes to realize that whereas perhaps when they were kids they had a real friendship, now Vivian guilts and manipulates him, while she has relationship after relationship with horrible, abusive men.

Hushed could easily have gone the route of melodramatic soap opera with its murders and its entangled relationships. Instead, it’s a dark portrait of the lengths to which guilt and love can push us, and the work it can take to untangle ourselves from the people we love. Kelley York‘s writing is straightforward and clipped, providing the perfect counterbalance to the sensational subject matter.

Archer’s character was, for me, extremely sympathetic even though—and this is the part that impressed me—I didn’t want him to kill anyone. Sometimes authors make murderers very sympathetic because they’re doing something that needs to be done, exacting justice where none would exist without them; it’s much harder, though, to build up the psychology of a character enough that the reader is on their side even while wishing they would not exact their version of justice. I began the book not sure at all that I would end up in that camp (the murder happens on the first page, so I’m really giving nothing away here). But Archer was, for me, quite appealing. Rarely has a character better demonstrated that sometimes being loved really can make people willing to try and do better.

Hushed was a great combination of genres: it’s set in a realist world, and it has an element of suspense and action, but it’s not a mystery or a thriller; it’s mainly a contemporary drama about relationships, but they’re so intertwined with the suspense that it has that great love in the trenches feel to it.

what were this book’s intentions? does it live up to them?

The relationships really are the core of the story. Archer and Vivian’s messed up relationship feels very authentic to me, as does the turns it’s taken to become twisted where once it was nourishing. Archer’s relationship with his mother is also really interesting, though I won’t say anything more for spoilery reasons. But if Archer’s relationship with Vivian is the one that’s crippling him, miring him in the past, his relationship with Evan is the one that pulls him forward, offering him hope not only for the future, but for himself as a person. Although undoubtedly appealing, Evan is the kind of character that could come off a bit too-good-to-be-true-vanilla-generic. He’s a sweet guy who swims a lot and is close with his family; he sees through Archer’s loner façade to the loving person within; etc.

But, Even transcends these qualities because of the depths he’s willing to go to for Archer. The pacing of their relationship was my favorite thing about Hushed, and I think York made a really smart choice by having it build extremely slowly. When they first meet there is the inkling of an attraction between them, but Archer is so focused on his habitual desire for Vivian that it barely registers for him. He wonders why Evan doesn’t pick up on his usual I-vant-to-be-alone terseness, and wonders why Evan wants to hang out with him. Little by little, though, as he comes to believe that Evan enjoys him, he begins to allow himself to enjoy Evan, too.

Their friendship builds to a romantic relationship slowly, but with no zigs and zags. There are impediments (*cough* Vivian *cough*), sure, but there is never, for example, any discussion of or crisis around sexual orientation, which was awesome. That was one of the things that felt most realistic to me: the fluid shift of hanging out with someone you like, to depending on them, to spending all your time with them, to developing romantic and sexual feelings for them. What was even better was that no one in the book discussed Archer’s relationship with Evan in terms of his sexual orientation either, even Vivian. And that is something that I’m so happy to see in a YA book.

All in all, Hushed was a real sleeper hit for me. I’ve wanted to read it for a while because the premise intrigued me, but it never quite jumped in front of my car. Then, I was just in the mood for it and it was so solid and quiet and compelling! It was a fast read, but had a lot of grit to it—you know, in a good way, like Tom Waits’ voice. And it has plot twists galore, believe me; I just didn’t want to give anything away. This is Kelley York’s first novel, and it’s impressively assured and effortless. I’m also excited to read her forthcoming book, Made of Stars.

readalikes

The Talented Mr. Ripley Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley series, by Patricia Highsmith (1955). In a way, Archer reminded me a little of what I imagine Tom Ripley might have been like at 18. I adore Highsmith’s series, and I think they’d have a lot to say to a reader of Hushed.

With Or Without You Brian Farrey

With Or Without You, by Brian Farrey (2011). With Or Without You is great contemporary realism that features a sensitive male protagonist placed in dangerous situations. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but you can check out my full review HERE.

Stick Andrew Smith

Stick, by Andrew Smith (2011). When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of Stick is HERE.

Slinging Lattes On Demon Wings

A Review of On Demon Wings: Experiment in Terror #5 by Karina Halle

Metal Blonde Books, 2012

By REBECCA, October 22, 2012

On Demon Wings Experiment in Terror Karina Halle

NOTE: On Demon Wings is the 5th book in the Experiment in Terror Series and this review contains spoilers for previous books in the series. If you haven’t already done so, check out my reviews of Darkhouse, Red FoxDead Sky Morning, and Lying Season before reading.

characters

Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart and a yen for adventure

Ada Palomino: Perry’s fashionista little sister who quickly becomes MVP

Maximus: An old friend of Dex’s who sweeps in claiming some ghost-y know-how

Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma

the hook

How can you escape the things that haunt you . . . if they’re inside you to begin with BWAH HA HAH!?!

worldview

Aaaaaaah! In On Demon Wings, Karina Halle’s fifth chilling installment of the Experiment in Terror series, fear moves from the outside in. In the first three books, Dex and Perry were filming episodes of their web ghost hunting show and were plagued by various ghosts, spirits, and unsavory beasties. In the fourth book, The Lying Season, shit got really personal, and ghosts from Dex’s past (and a girlfriend from his present) wreaked havoc on Dex and Perry’s fledgling relationship.

Cthulhu latte!

Cthulhu latte!

Now, several months after fleeing Seattle and strife with Dex, Perry has given up ghost hunting and taken a job at a coffee shop, trying to make normal (read: non-haunted) friends, hanging out with her sister, and whipping milk into a variety of concoctions for exacting customers. She’s messed up by the whole ordeal in Seattle, but she’s trying her damnedest to pick up the pieces. But, as always happens when we’re trying to scrape together the fragments of our shattered psyches, Perry begins feeling extremely ill, and seeing things, like girls at concerts with shark smiles.

Into this mess walks our good friend, Maximus, from Red Fox, Dex’s college buddy and former bandmate who took quite a shine to Perry. He’s just moved to Portland and wants to convince Perry to return to the show, with him instead of with Dex. Perry begins to feel worse and worse,  she is convinced that her house is haunted, and whatever is there is slowly driving her crazy.

what were this book’s expectations? did it live up to them?

On Demon Wings is the best kind of horror story: one where both the characters and the reader are, for most of the book, unsure whether the supernatural occurrences are real or not. But it’s with On Demon Wings that readers can be sure of one thing—that the Experiment in Terror series is one of most unique, spooky, and entertaining rides out there. Where The Lying Season shifted the plot arc that the first three books used, On Demon Wings breaks from it completely, and it is a perfectly calculated move. Instead of the controlled chaos we found in the first three books, and the high-energy, romantic chaos in book four, book five is mired deep in Perry’s psyche. Here is a dark, crawling pit of despair and fear into which Perry has fallen and she can’t get up.

Perry Palomino has fallen and she can't get up

Halle has taken her recipe of sexual tension + terror, added a heaping cup of heartbreak, a sprinkle of neuroses, and stirred it to a boil. In Dex’s absence, Maximus is the perfect leading man: comforting and take-charge (in a Southern kind of way), Maximus takes the pressure off Perry and worms his way into her confidence. It was sad to have an Experiment in Terror book where Dex was mostly absent, but it was a much-needed absence. In addition to feeling realistic in the scope of the series (which is gloriously long enough to leave room for a little leavening), Dex’s absence makes the reader feel as abandoned and at sea as Perry does, heightening the relief we feel when he arrives late in the book.

Practical Magic Alice HoffmanThe pleasantest surprise of On Demon Wings is that Ada finally gets a chance to live up to the promises of awesomeness the first four books made on her behalf. Even as their parents think that Perry is cracking up and Maximus proves that sometimes tall, handsome, Southern redheads aren’t all that they seem, Ada keeps a level head and refuses to give up on Perry. I love a good sisters-battling-evil-book, and Ada totally pulls her weight and looks out for Perry. Sisters!

Don’t worry your pretty little heads, though, Dex isn’t gone from On Demon Wings completely. He shows up, as Dex is wont to do, at a dramatic moment and, well, makes it more dramatic. And, of course, it ends on what we in the business would call a cliffhanger. Pfew, Perry really needs a vacation.

Old Blood Experiment in Terror Karina HalleSo, now you’re all caught up with the main books in the series. The sixth Experiment in Terror book—Into the Hollow—will be released this year (publication has been pushed back a bit). You can check out the cover reveal for Into the Hollow HERE. But, lest you fall over the cliff before it’s released, you should also check out Old Blood (EIT 5.5), the novella about Pippa, the “crazy clown lady,” and The Dex-Files (EIT 5.7), a novel composed of scenes from the series told from Dex’s perspective.

What has been your favorite Experiment in Terror book so far?

Cover Reveal! Karina Halle’s Into The Hollow: Experiment in Terror #6

BONUS: Review of Lying Season: EIT #4

By REBECCA, August 31, 2012

If you read Crunchings & Munchings regularly, you know that I love Karina Halle’s Experiment in Terror series. It is my sublimest delight, then, to reveal to you the brand spanking new cover of the newest Experiment in Terror novel, number 6: Into the Hollow! Check out this totally gorgeous creepfest:

Into the Hollow Experiment in Terror 6 Karina Halle Cover Reveal

Here’s the deal:

“Perry Palomino has fought her demons—and won—but the battle is far from over. She’s now left broken and on her own, leaving behind her life and family in Portland to focus on giving Dex Foray—and the Experiment in Terror show—a second chance. But their past mistakes continue to tease and test their relationship, as does the wild and desolate terrain of the Canadian Rockies. The snow-covered peaks and ravenous forests hide an urban legend too unbelievably frightening to be true and the only way the duo has a chance of surviving is if Perry can let in the very man who sent her to hell and back.” (from Goodreads)

Gaaahh! First of all, few things strike terror into my heart like a quaint log cabin isolated enough so that no one could hear me scream when one of those über pointy icicles just happened to break off and lodge itself in my throat, melting to leave no evidence behind even when I’m found at the first thaw by an adorably-in-love couple who have rented the cabin for a romantic getaway. Maybe they’ll name their firstborn after me and I won’t be entirely forgotten out there in the cold.

Anyhoo, this is a gorgeous cover (by Najila Qamber)—no surprise, since the entire series’ covers have been awesome: one striking image with a supersaturated color. I especially like the sky in this one. That demented green is so much creepier than the blue tinge that snow sometimes gets . . . God, I am freaking myself out.

Expected Publication: October 23rd (by Metal Blonde Books), right in time for Halloween, y’all!

The Experiment in Terror Series, Karina Halle

Want to catch up? Lucky you: I’ve reviewed Experiment in Terror 1-3

here,                                             here,                                              and here!

Darkhouse Experiment in Terror 1 Karina Halle  Red Fox Experiment in Terror 2 Karina Halle  Dead Sky Morning Experiment in Terror 3 Karina Halle

And now, here is a very brief review of Experiment In Terror #4, Lying Season. It’s very brief because the meat of the book’s drama is interpersonal and I would really be ruining it for you if I give any of that drama away. But I promise: it is très, très, dramatic.

Lying Season Experiment In Terror 4 Karina Halle

characters

Perry Palomino: A kick-ass (no, really, she knows martial arts) lady with a lonely heart and a yen for adventure

Dex Foray: Mustachioed ghost hunter and all-around delightfully infuriating enigma

Jennifer: Wine Babe (yes, that’s a thing), Dex’s girlfriend, and all-around overly attractive person

Rebecca: Jennifer’s fellow Wine Babe, equally overly attractive, but also an overly-awesome friend to Dex and new friend to Perry

Assorted ghosts, animals, and other wee beasties

the hook

“Ama­teur ghost-hunter Perry Palomino has bat­tled ghosts, fought off skin­walk­ers and skirted the fine line between life and death. But can she sur­vive bunk­ing down in Seat­tle for a week with her partner (and man she secretly loves) Dex and his perfect girl­friend, Jennifer? And can she do so while being tor­mented by a mali­cious spirit from Dex’s increas­ingly shady past? With love and life in the bal­ance, Perry must dis­cover the truth among the lies or risk los­ing every­thing she’s ever cared about.” (from Goodreads)

everything

Darkhouse Experiment in Terror 1 Karina HalleLying Season has a different form than any of the previous three experiments in terror because rather than Perry and Dex alone together in an intense ghost-hunting experience away from either of their daily lives, here they face the complete and total horror of trying to coexist in the space of Dex’s daily life, girlfriend, dog, and all. (And, again, I’m not going to give anything away, here, because much of the delight of Lying Season is watching the interpersonal drama unfold.)

So, Perry is staying in Dex and Jennifer’s apartment in Seattle so that she and Dex can film an episode in Riverside Mental Hospital and Perry can meet the whole Shownet team (the company that runs their show, as well as several others, including Wine Babes, the show that Jennifer and Rebecca host) at the annual Christmas party. Allow me to summarize: Sexual tension + mental hospitals + ghosts of days past + antipsychotics = well, Christmas, I guess, but also . . . TROUBLE. Trouble for Perry’s heart and trouble for Dex’s sanity, not to mention major, major trouble for everyone’s relationships. Oh, and did I mention the complete sizzle that seems to pass between Perry and Dex any time they’re near enough for energy to arc? Well, it’s pretty clear to anyone in proximity, including Jennifer.

Dead Sky Morning Experiment in Terror 3 Karina HalleAfter incidents at Riverside Mental Hospital suggest to Perry that perhaps Dex’s ability to sense ghosts is closer to her own than he has ever let on, she undertakes an experiment of her own . . . an experiment that causes more terror than any she and Dex have undergone so far. Did that sound cryptic and like it might reference Perry and Dex’s ever-intensifying relationship as well as the spirit world? Well, it is and it does and if you’re not reading Halle’s Experiment in Terror series yet for any reason other than you don’t think you could possibly stand how awesomescary they are then I doubt your sanity.

Have you read all five Experiment in Terror books and are wondering if there is anything to tide you over for the next weeks until Into the Hollow comes out? Well, you are in luck again! You should clearly go read the following:

The Benson Experiment in Terror 2.5 Karina HalleThe Benson a novella that is Experiment in Terror 2.5, between Darkhouse and Red Fox. You can download it for free here.

Old Blood Experiment in Terror 5.5 Karina HalleOld Blood: Experiment in Terror 5.5, which tells the story of Pippa (aka The Creepy Clown Lady) that she begins to communicate to Perry in Lying Season.

The Dex-Files Experiment in Terror 5.7 Karina HalleThe Dex-Files: Experiment in Terror 5.7. This is a companion novel to the series, composed of re-tellings of scenes from the other books, but told from Dex’s perspective. (Note: this means that here be spoilers for the other books in the series, so be warned.) I love how Dex’s profile-silhouette is kind of Sherlock Holmsian.

Can’t wait for Into the Hollow! Check back soon for the review of the fifth Experiment in Terror novel, On Demon Wings. Stay alive, friends. It’s scary out there.

Experiment in Terror Supernatural Sam

People are just people, they shouldn’t make you nervous: It’s Kind of a Funny Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Ned Vizzini
Miramax Books/Hyperion, 2006

review by Tessa

Characters
Outside of the Hospital
Craig Gilner, can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t talk, can try to smoke pot to self-medicate since he took himself off of his real medication, Zoloft
Dr. Minerva, an understanding psychologist
Aaron, Craig’s bestie, but doesn’t know about Craig’s problems but does tell Craig in explicit detail about his sexual exploits with…
Nia, girl of Craig’s dreams, dating Aaron
Sarah Craig’s younger sister

Inside of the Hospital
Smitty – day manager
Bobby & Johnny – biggest meth addicts in New York (in the 90s)
Jimmy – It’ll come to ya
Noelle – cute note-leaver with self-inflicted facial cuts
Humble– bald, suspicious of yuppies and yuppie-like behavior
Muqtada – Craig’s roommate. Mostly sleeps and wishes there were some Egyptian music he could hear.
Armelio – “The President”, announces when meals occur.
Solomon – keep it down, he’s trying to rest
Ebony – wears velvet pants
The Professor – convinced her home is full of insecticide (and it may well be)

Hook
Craig Gilner works hard to achieve his one goal of teenagedom: getting into an elite prep school. Then he gets so anxious and depressed he wants to kill himself. What then?

Worldview

Craig Gilner lives in the real world. And in the real world you find the best path to being successful and follow it. For him, that’s getting into the Executive Pre-Professional High School, in Manhattan. Getting in there guarantees a wealthy, healthy life. So Craig studies his ass off and gets in. And then the Tentacles start wrapping around him…

Tentacles is my term–the Tentacles are the evil tasks that invade my life.  Like, for example, my American History class last week, which necessitated me writing a paper on the weapons of the Revolutionary War, which necessitated me traveling to the Metropolitan Museum to check out some of the old guns, which necessitated me getting in the subway, which necessitated me being away from my cell phone and e-mail for 45 minutes, which meant that I didn’t get to respond to a mass e-mail sent out by my teacher asking who needed extra credit, which meant other kids snapped up the extra credit, which meant I wasn’t going to get a 98 in the class, which mean I wasn’t anywhere close to a 98.6 average (body temperature, that’s what you needed to get), which meant I wasn’t going to get into a Good College, which meant I wasn’t going to have a Good Job, which meant I wasn’t going to have health insurance, which meant I’d have to pay tremendous amounts of money for the shrinks and drugs my brain needed, which meant I wasn’t going to have enough money to pay for a Good Lifestyle, which meant I’d feel ashamed, which meant I’d get depressed, and that was the big one because I knew what that did to me: it made it so I wouldn’t get out of bed, which led to the ultimate thing–homelessness. If you can’t get out of bed for long enough, people come and take your bed away.” (14-15).

photo by flickr user kevin dooley

Craig is so anxious and depressed and swallowed up by the chain of events that hypothetically ensure that he ends up homeless that he can’t eat. He can’t usually talk.  He can smoke weed, but sometimes he doesn’t, to see if it improves things.

He can also watch jealously as his best friend hooks up with the seemingly perfect Nia, a girl with shiny hair and impeccable outfits along with a love of sex, and then tells Craig aaaall the gory details.

It’s too much. Craig decides he’s already failed at life and should kill himself.

But instead of doing that he checks himself into the hospital.

What is the book’s intention & is it achieved?

If this book’s intention is to give its readers an accurate view of depression and to show that normal people have it and struggle with it, and how that struggle can go and be a slog but still be hopeful, then it is certainly achieved.

“It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint–it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out.  They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed -ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.” (3)

Craig’s a great voice, and if you want to get granular, he’s also a great teenage boy voice.  He’s got facets.  The book opens with him at his worst. When the book opens, he’s at his lowest point. By the reactions of his friends and family it’s easy to tell that he looks blank to them. But because we’re in his head, we hear the self-flagellation of a depressed person. The anguish and the self-deprecation, and all the things Craig would like to say if he could make himself.  The loneliness of not being able to say things.  The hopelessness of feeling like each decision is a bad one. The frustration of not being able to do something so simple as feed yourself.  But couched in black humor–Craig’s funny and he has a loving, supportive, dry-witted family.

That’s the first part of the book.  Then Craig checks himself into an adult mental ward (the youth wing is being renovated) at the hospital a few blocks down from his apartment in Brooklyn.  And finally meets people who admit that they’re struggling with similar things.

“I look at Bobby’s deep-sunk eyes. I get the feeling–I don’t know how I know the rules of mental-ward etiquette; maybe I was born with them; maybe I knew I’d end up here–but I get the feeling that one big no-no in this place is asking people how they got here. It’d be a little like walking up to somebody in prison and going ‘So? So? What’s up huh? Didja kill somebody? Didja?’’

But I also get the impression that you can volunteer the reasons you got here at any time and no one will judge; no one will think you’re too crazy or not crazy enough, and that’s how you make friends. After all, what else is there to talk about? So I tell bobby: ‘I’m here because I suffer from serious depression.’

‘Me too.’ He nods. ‘Since I was fifteen.’ And his eyes shine with blackness and horror. We shake hands.” (198-9).

That’s where things begin to change for Craig. By putting himself somewhere with simplified choices, he frees himself up to experience a little happiness again. Some spontaneity.  He re-learns that there are other options in life, and he discovers how to be creative again.  (See Rebecca’s People Creating Things list for other books with this plot point.)  All this, even though the people in the ward can be a little weird and unpredictable, and the whole thing is scary.  He still manages to find a cute girl to have 15 minute dates with.

creative representations of thought! this is apropos, just trust me. photo by flickr user foolish gold.

And that’s why It’s Kind of a Funny Story is such a wonderful book. It has balance.  In the first part the extremely realistic knowledge of severe depression is balanced by the natural humor of Craig’s voice. At the hospital the hardness of mental illness isn’t shied away from. Craig’s roommate Muqtada never showers and can barely get out of bed. Craig’s friends find out he’s in the hospital and tell him so in an extremely unsympathetic phone call. Jimmy, a man who was admitted with Craig, is so messed up he only repeats certain phrases, until he debuts some new ones that reveal how terrible his life must have been.

But Craig doesn’t get a terrible plot arc that ends up with him relapsing once he leaves the hospital, or staying on the ward for months and months–we see it in other characters, so it’s in there, but this isn’t YA Problem-Fest. Jimmy’s problems don’t become the maudlin emotional climax of the book. Instead, it’s built like a really great pop song.  In fact, in its denouement the rhythm and bittersweetness of the prose reminded me very much of certain Regina Spektor lyrics. Compare:

“I haven’t cured anything but something seismic is happening in me. I feel my body wrapped up and slapped on top of my spine. I feel the heart that beat early in the morning on Saturday and told me I didn’t want to die. I feel the lungs that have been doing their work quietly inside the hospital. I feel the hands that can make art and touch girls–think of all the tools you have. I feel the feet that can let me run anywhere I want, into the park and out of it and down to my bike to go all over Brooklyn and Manhattan too, once I convince my mom.  I feel my stomach and liver and all that mushy stuff that’s in there handling food, happy to be back in use. But most of all I feel my brain, up there taking in blood and looking out on the world and noticing humor and light and smells and dogs and every other thing in the world–everything in my life all in my brain, really, so it would be natural that when my brain was screwed up, everything in my life would be.” (442-3).

“No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again” – On the Radio, Regina Spektor

 

Readalikes

Honestly? Will Grayson, Will Grayson. And not just because we just discussed it.

Otherwise I’m drawing a blank. Anyone have any good suggestions?

 

Disclosure/Digression

This is what Craig’s dog looks like: 

I don’t intend on seeing the movie adaptation of this. Normally I don’t care if the movie and the book are different, but nothing about any of the characters reminded me of Zach Galifianakis. As much as I love his other stuff. I don’t want him invading this book with his personality.

I got this book from the library, in ebook AND paper form

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