So. Ned Vizzini has committed suicide. And this fact of his death, that it was by his own hand, weighs so, so heavy on the grief that I am feeling right now.
I am not the first young person to write, today, about how It’s Kind of a Funny Story kept me breathing during some of the darkest moments of my adolescence. I will not be the last. This is Ned’s legacy: he tossed a bright, orange-and-white ring to us drowning kids and pleaded with us to stay afloat. And we read his words, and we understood, and we eventually made our way to shore.
I was thirteen years old when I read Funny Story for the first time. I was still living in Vancouver. I picked it up at the Chapters on Broadway and Granville and cautiously paged through the first couple of chapters right there in the store. I put it back on the shelf. The very next week, my family took off on a vacation to the east coast. We stopped into a Barnes & Noble in New York City, and I found a copy and read a few more chapters. It wasn’t until Kramerbooks in Washington, D.C., that I decided, finally, to buy the damn thing and bring it home. I’ve kept it with me ever since.
It’s a special book. I truly don’t believe that a more accurate portrait of a young person’s depression exists in literature, with the exception, maybe, of The Bell Jar. And the great, unspeakable tragedy of The Bell Jar is now the tragedy of Funny Story.
The book opens, as you can see above, with sixteen-year-old protagonist Craig musing that it’s “so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.” The last page, by contrast, is a cacophony of verbs, spat out in a breathless staccato, ending with a clarion call to “live, live, live, live.” I think I must have read that page alone a hundred times now. It got me through high school. It got me through my parents’ divorce. It got me through the end of friendships. Once, in the tenth grade, it kept me from a suicide attempt.
And there, I think, lies the most important lesson: survival is not a temporary state. Healing does not necessarily have a delineated beginning and end. You have been sad before, and you will be sad again; what matters is how you interact with your sadness. You have to be kind to yourself, and gentle. You have to surround yourself with people who love you, and you have to love them in return. Every day of your life is a fight, and it helps to have allies.
Ned Vizzini was once asked what he hoped young adults would take away from Funny Story, and he said this:
What I would like young adults to take away from It’s Kind of a Funny Story is that if you’re feeling suicidal, call a hotline. Suicidal ideation really is a medical emergency and if more people knew to call the suicide hotline we’d have less suicides.
In Ned’s memory, I will reiterate his words: if you are feeling suicidal, or depressed, or anxious, talk to someone. Call a hotline. I’ve posted a list of helpful numbers here.
Don’t keep quiet. Ask for help. You are not alone.
Live. Live. Live. Live.
This is a wonderful way to honour Ned Vizzini’s memory, I think—to talk about what his books meant to you, how they helped you, to consider how to help people in the future, to say: books are important. Every way we have of reaching out to and communicating with each other is important.