Starting in the 7th grade he had one goal: get into Manhattan’s super selective Executive Pre-Professional High School. After that, follow all the rules. Graduate with solid grades (not 93s). Go to the right college. Get the right degree. Get into law school. Become President.
He spends his middle school years prepping for the entrance exam. He doesn’t need friends; he has flash cards.
And then, in a moment that represents every second he spent reading, studying, memorizing, working, prepping, breathing… he gets in.
Things fall apart soon after he opens his letter. He no longer has a single focus. His world doesn’t revolve around the test. He starts school and is horrified to learn that other people are a lot smarter than he is and simply getting into the school wasn’t the real test.
The depression starts. The medicine starts. The psychologist visits start.
And, of course, all the fun stuff that comes up when you’re a teenager start.
Not only does he have to deal with his best friend dating the girl he’s crazy in love with, he has to do with while throwing up from forcing himself to eat.
He’s telling us this in the past tense. He’s getting us caught up to where he is now. After getting to a point where he just can’t do it any more, he makes a plan to kill himself but winds up at the ER checking himself into the psych ward.
The rest of the book is him trying to figure it all out. He has five days until he’s released. He has five days to find something that works since nothing in his life is doing it for him any more. He has five days to interact with the other patients and learn about their lives.
I enjoyed this book for several reasons. First, I loved Craig’s voice. Vizzini captures a lot with a few simple sentences. Second, Vizzini writes extremely well about depression. The two things combined are painfully beautiful. Vizzini writes down a few of Craig’s thoughts and creates an accurate teenage voice and an accurate internal monologue of the depressed. It feels real.
Vizzini himself spent five days in a mental health unit. He wrote this book soon after. He does an amazing job translating the experience into words and sentences and paragraphs and finally into a book.
It’s a great read both for the story, the characters (all of them are solidly written) and the plot. It’s the type of book that makes me wish I was still teaching so I could recommend it.
Pick it up if you enjoy well written YA. Craig is a teenager without an adult author making him angsty.