book reviews, mental health

Repost: A review of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story…

This is a repost of a book review I wrote for my original blog on May 13, 2014. It appears here as/is.

I honestly don’t remember why I downloaded Ned Vizzini’s book, It’s Kind of A Funny Story.  It was published in 2010 and has been turned into a movie, but I think it was intended for young adults.  No matter.  I found Vizzini’s book very engaging and entertaining, even though it’s basically about an adolescent male who struggles with depression and suicidal ideation and ends up in a mental ward.

Craig Gilner is fifteen years old and attending Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School.  He’s a high achieving kind with visions of success and prosperity in his very bright looking future.  Getting that success means getting into the right high school, the right college, the right grad school, and marrying the right person.  So Craig works to achieve those lofty goals and soon gets weighed down by depression.  Craig realizes that compared to his classmates, he’s not all that impressive.  He stops eating and sleeping and one night, decides he’s going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.

So he calls a suicide hotline.  At first, he gets routed to a guy who doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing.  The operator on the hotline tries to get Craig to do some exercises intended to reduce anxiety, but they end up making him more anxious.  He hangs up and calls another suicide hotline and is advised to get to a hospital.  He goes to the emergency room at a hospital two blocks from where he lives.  He gets admitted to Six North, where he gets help.  There, he meets people with some real problems… and isolated from his high pressure school, Craig is able to isolate the source of his anxiety and depression and change his life.

Author Vizzini has himself spent time in a mental hospital, so he’s able to make his story ring true.  He injects a lot of humor into a story that could be bogged down with too much of a heavy subject.  The end result is a very readable book that many people will relate to easily.  I myself have dealt with depression and anxiety, but I haven’t yet spent time in a mental ward.  I hope I never will experience such a thing…  but I’m glad Vizzini was able to turn his personal experiences into a story that will help and entertain others.

Yes, this book is intended for teens from 9th grade up, but as a 41 year old adult, I also enjoyed it.  That’s really saying something, because nowadays, I’m really more into true stories than novels.  I would recommend It’s Kind of A Funny Story, particularly to young people who feel stressed about the future.  Of course, most people worry about what’s coming next… but this book especially speaks to precocious teens and zany middle-aged people like me.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of Elena Vanishing: A Memoir

This morning, I stumbled across this book review I wrote for my original blog on October 11, 2016. I am reposting it here as/is, because I remember enjoying this book.

So, sometime recently I purchased a couple of books about eating disorders.  I generally like to read memoirs, so Elena Dunkle’s book, Elena Vanishing: A Memoir, was one of the books I downloaded.  Elena Dunkle co-wrote this book with her mother, Clare B. Dunkle, who is an established author.  It was published in 2015.

I didn’t know this when I started reading, but I have some things in common with Elena Dunkle.  For one thing, she spent several years living in Germany.  Her father works for Ramstein Air Force Base (I gathered, anyway).  The book opens with her as a seventeen year old at a hospital. She doesn’t mention it specifically, but she’s apparently at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.  The psychiatrist there is described as a bit of a putz, as he threatens to send her back to the United States, where she’ll be stuck in a hospital with a tube forced up her nose.  Later, she describes being sent back to the States in what sounds like a military transport plane.  Having been on a few hops myself, I have to admit enjoying the read about those military planes because I could picture it well.  I had no idea they sent civilians back in them for medical purposes, though.

Elena Dunkle’s parents own a home in San Antonio, Texas, which is where Bill and I lived before we moved back to Germany.  Her parents temporarily move back to Texas while Elena gets treatment.  Elena has big dreams of being a nurse and manages to go to college.  But though she gets a job as a resident assistant, she makes the unfortunate mistake of mentioning her eating disorder.  That revelation leads to negative consequences, which don’t help her situation.  College life is stressful for Elena.  Her eating disorder is exacerbated by some traumatic events… events that would trouble anyone. 

Elena Vanishing is the true story of Elena Dunkle’s five year struggle with anorexia nervosa.  It’s a stark accounting of what it was like for her to be treated, in recent years, for an eating disorder.  It also offers an insight into the character of a person with anorexia nervosa.  I read one comment on in which a reader criticized Elena for “not being likable.”  I felt the need to respond to that comment, because I felt that Elena’s less likable and less trusting nature offered very good insight into the experience of having an eating disorder. 

Although many people who struggle with anorexia are “people pleasers”, the illness itself manifests with manipulative, secretive, dishonest, and ultimately unpleasant behavior.  Having an eating disorder is not wholly unlike having any disorder involving addiction to a substance or a behavior.  Part of the disease means being untrustworthy.  None of these elements of a person’s character are usually regarded as pleasing or likable.  But that’s what having an eating disorder ultimately leads to; a person who isn’t sweet, loving, and pleasant.  They resist treatment and become very recalcitrant.  The disorder causes them to fight against those who are trying to help them.

In 2007, the British soap opera Hollyoaks had a very good storyline about anorexia nervosa.  The actresses portraying the characters Hannah and Melissa demonstrate how nasty and sneaky an eating disorder can make someone become.  Skip to 2:29 to see how Melissa and Hannah affect a simple backyard party.

Overall, I thought Elena Vanishing was a well written and interesting memoir.  If I had to offer a criticism, I would say that this book ends rather abruptly.  I was surprised when I got to the end.  However, I have read a lot of books about eating disorders, and found Elena Vanishing to be a very good read, as well as an accurate portrayal of one person’s experience with anorexia nervosa.  I was particularly interested, because I have myself shared some similar experiences to Elena’s, though thankfully, I have never suffered from an eating disorder that ever landed me in a hospital.

This book is recommended for readers from the ninth grade up.  I think that’s an appropriate age for reading this book.  I also liked that it didn’t seem to be very triggering.  There’s nothing about specific weights or sizes that would serve as “thinsperation” for eating disordered readers.  There’s also little about specific behaviors that could be triggering for sensitive readers.  By contrast, the 1978 book The Best Little Girl In The World by noted eating disorder therapist Steven Levenkron, is said to be very triggering (and I will confess that when I read it as a teenager, I was pretty obsessed with it myself).  

Anyway, I liked Elena Vanishing and I think I’d give it a hearty four stars.

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