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