The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

At the suggestion from a comment on this blog, I decided to read The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult. I had high expectations for the novel, as I read and thoroughly enjoyed My Sister’s Keeper. The novel did not disappoint.

The story follows Sage Singer, a baker who has shut herself away from the rest of the world. She goes to a grief group, but outside of that, she hides her face from the rest of the world. Even Adam, with whom she has a complicated relationship, may just be pitying her. And then she meets Josef Weber, a nonagenarian with a lingering German accent who has a mysterious request: For Sage to help Josef kill himself.

Why her? you may ask. They just met… Well, Sage’s family, except for Sage herself, is Jewish. And Josef… he swears he was an SS Officer.

What makes this novel touching is how the characters relate to one another. They each deal with their own internal struggle and it is incredible to watch them grow to trust one another, or to betray the other. I loved that the story was interrupted by an extensive account of a young girl’s experience in concentration camps, because it made the novel feel not only like a moral decision in the present day but relevant to how history proves to repeat itself.

This was one of the greatest stories I have read in a while. I strongly recommend this novel. It deserves a 10 out of 10.

– Leila S., 11th grade

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Craig is depressed. What could be funny about that? He cannot handle his work at Executive Pre-Professional High School. He throws up when he tries to eat, because, as he says, there is a little man pulling a rope that makes him regurgitate his food. He smokes pot with his best friend and has a huge case of jealousy over his best friend’s girlfriend. He meets regularly with two psychologists, or shrinks.

He knows basically all there is to know about his depression. He knows when the Cycling is starting up, how he hopes the Shift will come, but sometimes he experiences a Fake Shift. He just doesn’t know when the real Shift will come.

And then he experiences the lowest of lows and admits himself into the hospital.

Vizzini, having suffered from depression himself, presents depression in a way that is understandable to the lay person, and in a sense, relatable to teens who have the same issue as Craig: being over stressed and over worked at school. I enjoyed the simple way in which Craig looked at the world, but it was tough to read about the people he met in 6 North.

This novel is appropriate for most teens. It has been made into a movie, which may be interesting to watch, but I would definitely recommend reading it first.

– Leila S., 11th grade

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download from Overdrive and Hoopla

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

itskindofafunnystory_nedvizziniIt’s always tragic when one takes their own life. Ned Vizzini, the author of this highly acclaimed novel, did so at age 32. His death lends so much more meaning to this book about a 15-year-old battling depression and suicidal thoughts. In the story, teen Craig Gilner has absolutely nothing to complain about in life. He’s got a good, loving family, great friends, and goes to one of the hardest to get into schools in Manhattan. Which is why he can’t figure out why he’s so depressed. He can’t eat, he can’t sleep, and every day is another waking nightmare. So finally, he decides he’s going to do something about it and kill himself. But Craig isn’t an idiot, he realizes something is very wrong with him. He calls the suicide hotline and checks himself into a hospital, where he is sent to the mental ward. While there, he learns about the truths behind the other patients, and more about himself than he’d ever known. Written in a tone of humor mixed with tragedy, this incredible story brilliantly illustrates how severe depression really is, and how to try to beat it.

You feel as if you know Craig personally, and are constantly rooting for him. This is because he talks to the reader casually, as he would a close friend, making him all the more relatable. When I read this book the first time through, I had unfortunately skipped the forward and didn’t find out that the author had actually killed himself until someone I had recommended it to told me. This was devastating, as I grew so close to the main character (who was based very closely on the author). This story is incredible, not only because of how well-written it is and how relatable the characters are, but because shortly before writing this book, Ned Vizzini, himself, was admitted into a mental hospital for suicidal thoughts and wrote It’s Kind of a Funny Story based on his real-life experiences there. This is a book that should be read by everyone, old and young, depressed and not, because people need to wake up and seriously look at this issue. I would, however, keep this book out of the hands of children twelve and under. As many of my friends struggle with depression, this book really helped me to understand. Highly recommend!

Evan G., 8th Grade

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available for download from Overdrive.

The Program by Suzanne Young

theprogram_suzanneyoung“But the psychologists say that suicide is a behavioral contagion. It’s the old adage ‘If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you, too?’ Apparently the answer is yes” (9).

In Sloane’s world, nothing is as it seems. Any sign of depression, even just crying in public, and a teenager risks being sent to The Program, a “solution” to the suicide epidemic. Here, teenagers’ minds are wiped clean so they can start their lives again. The handlers medicate them to erase all their pain and memories, leaving all the returners “empty,” as Sloane might say.

Sloane, her boyfriend James, and their friend Miller do not agree. They would prefer to die than be sent to The Program, which makes things slightly more complicated.

Overall, I found this book to be a compelling read. I would definitely recommend it, yet keep in mind that it discusses a sensitive topic. For that reason, I would recommend this book for a slightly older audience. Even at my age, I was a disturbed by the repetition of suicide in the novel.

On a brighter note, however, the narrative was sentimental. The Program is definitely one of those books where you sympathize with the characters. From the perspective of a critic, the storytelling leaves readers with questions which are left unanswered until the very end, which makes me want to read the rest of the series.

– Leila S., 10th grade

The Program is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Library