Be More Chill By Ned Vizzini

Are you a teenager who feels like they don’t fit in, or like you aren’t cool enough to date your teenage crush?  Do you run with the geeky crowd but pine away wanting to be a part of the popular crowd?  Do you need to be more chill? If so, this is the perfect book for you.  Be More Chill was published June 1, 2004 by American author Ned Vizzini.  It is a modern take on the perils of what can happen when you are not true to your authentic self.  Be more Chill is a hilarious yet mature read with adult themes that is not appropriate for all teens.  However, Vizzini’s message is attention-grabbing, so much so that Be More Chill was adapted as a musical with original music and lyrics by Joe Iconis.  Be More Chill, the musical, premiered off Broadway in 2015, followed by a Broadway run in 2018.  Unfortunately, plans for London and Chicago productions have subsequently either been cut short or cancelled due to the Covid 19 pandemic.  

Be More Chill (Broadway Tie-In) by Ned Vizzini, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

Ned Vizzini’s novel, Be More Chill, is a story about a highschool boy named Jeremy Heere.  Jeremy is an outsider and a loser amongst his popular classmates.  He is bullied and picked on by his peers and has only one true friend to console him, Michael Mell.  Michael is also part of the loser crew but unlike Jeremy he is happy, content, and comfortable with himself.  Jeremy dreams of dating his crush Christine Canegula, but unfortunately cannot work up the nerve to approach her.  Jeremy obsessively looks for a way to get Christine’s attention without making a fool of himself.  Despite his notion that signing up for the school play is a “sign-up sheet for getting called gay,” he decides to go for it as a ploy to get Christine’s attention.  He quickly learns that Christine’s focus is on the school play and not on Jeremy.  Hurt and defeated, Jeremy is vulnerable to taking advice from his worst enemy and tormenter, Rich Goranski.  Rich gives Jeremy a “get cool quick” scheme.  Rich tells Jeremy about a top secret experimental pill created by Sony called a SQUIP (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor).  Rich explains that the pill size supercomputer can teach you how to be cool and convinces Jeremy that, if he swallows the SQUIP pill, he will no longer be a loser.  Jeremy gets his hands on a SQUIP and mayhem ensues.   Jeremy finds himself the popular center of attention.  He attends all the cool parties and finds himself making out with all the hot girls.  At first Jeremy loves reaping the benefits of the SQUIP, but soon he learns that being cool isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Bad behavior has lasting consequences.  At risk of losing his best friend and losing  any chance of connecting with the girl of his dreams, Jeremy has to make tough decisions and repair the damage that his SQUIP intoxication creates.   

Amazon.com: Be More Chill (9780786809967): Vizzini, Ned: Books

Be More Chill is a satire of the teenage high school experience as told from the perspective of an overly awkward, dorky, and anxiety-prone Jeremy.  It is mostly hilarious because Jeremy’s character is over exaggerated to the point of being almost ridiculous.  In some ways the story is sad because Jeremy is so paralyzed by his lack of self esteem that he can’t approach the girl he loves and is willing to trade his best friend for being cool.  He seems pathetic.  The concept of a pill sized super-computer as the “drug of choice” for transformation is interesting especially as it reveals to Jeremy that we do not win when we are not true to ourselves.  I feel like this is a lesson we all know and have read and re-read from a variety of perspectives. Ned Vizzini couches his version of the lesson in mature themes including drugs, sex, and violence that are at times shocking and disturbing.  That someone thought to turn this into a musical seems equally as shocking but also brilliant.  Unfortunately, the novel’s end is abrupt and a disappointment, as there is no real redemption for Jeremy.  The reader is left feeling that Jeremy has really learned very little and is still, unfortunately, a loser. 

-Johnson D.

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini is available as a free download through Overdrive.

Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein

If you love comic strips, graphic novels, or rad video game graphics that tell the story seen in your imagination, then you will find Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein intriguing. This literary remake of Mary Shelley’s classic work captures attention immediately with on-point illustrations complementing the descriptive narrative, down to the smallest imagined detail. Grimly himself writes in his Afterword, “I wanted to set the tale in a world that could only be visited through my imagination. Dark moral lessons exist amidst a whimsical tone.” (Grimly 195).

The original Frankenstein was published in 1818 by Mary Shelley but the core messages of this chilling classic stand the test of time, especially told through Grimly’s words and pictures. Shelley’s original work was very advanced for its era. For many, the disturbing concept of creating life in a laboratory was difficult to understand. However, Shelley’s lessons about the consequences of what we create continue to captivate and even frighten readers today. As medical science has evolved, we can now transplant organs from one human being to another to sustain life. This is the positive side of such advancement but what are the consequences? Mary Shelley was asking these questions before anyone around her could imagine this kind of science. The problem with Shelley’s telling of Frankenstein is that the novel is long and difficult for a modern reader to get through. Enter Gris Grimly. Grimly is a wildly talented illustrator who was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein so much so that he re-wrote the story in a way that would be more understandable to a wide audience. He added captivating, weird, and sometimes horrifying (in a good way) graphics that help usher the reader through the dense and detailed story.

Frankenstein is the story of Victor Frankenstein’s twisted life. A key component to understanding Victor is learning that he loses his beloved mother to scarlet fever. He is heart-broken and his grief drives him to the brink of insanity. His entire purpose becomes trying to find the cure for all illness, to prevent man’s demise from disease. This transforms from wanting to cure disease to creating life. Through research and experimentation, Victor succeeds in resurrecting the dead and creating life from a dead body dug out of a graveyard. The glory of his creation turns into fear because the life form has a hideous appearance. “For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” (Grimly 42) Victor immediately flees the creature, his own creation, without even giving the creature a chance to learn humanity. The monster is brought into the world and abandoned by his maker. Grimly’s illustrative rendering of the scene is grotesque, sad, and begs the question, “who is the real monster?” Victor’s abandonment of the monster is a grave mistake. The monster flees into a world he does not understand with no guidance. He is shunned and hated by all manner of person. The rejection destroys the monster. He becomes jealous, hurt, and angry. The monster does not understand why he is treated differently than Victor and he is jealous of the love and acceptance Victor has from his family and friends. The monster’s rage and jealousy turn destructive and then deadly as he seeks to make Victor suffer in the worst way imaginable. With the guilt of his family being murdered by his own creation, Victor sets out to kill the creature and send it back to the darkness. Ultimately, this obsession leads to Victor’s own demise.

Grimly’s illustrations and written word are dark but weirdly drive home sympathy for the monster and disgust with Victor. Grimly writes in his Afterword about seeing the story through Victor’s eyes, “Beware the slippery slopes of acclimating to a life of self-absorbed achievements and fame, lest one falls into the pit of fire and brimstone.” (Grimly 195) Victor’s selfish undoing is not the only lesson of Frankenstein. The damage of ” judging a book by its cover” is another. The monster wants only acceptance and love. Anyone who has ever felt like the outsider or outcast can identify with him. Grimly beautifully draws the monster asking Victor to create a companion for him so he can, “become linked to the chain of existence and events, from which I am now excluded.” (Grimly 117) This drives home the monster’s feeling of loneliness and desire for acceptance and companionship. The reader can’t help but be frustrated by how the monster is treated and ask themselves, “wouldn’t I treat him better?” Ultimately what Gris Grimly accomplishes with his interpretation of Frankenstein is illustrative magic. Grimly draws the reader into his cool, grotesque, and hipster version of Frankenstein’s world, without allowing the reader to miss the key elements and moral questions of the original story. He takes the hard work of Mary Shelley’s immense masterpiece and makes it an easy ride for all readers.

-Johnson D.