In the opening sequence of It's Kind of a Funny Story, the novel's fifteen year-old narrator, Craig Gilner, is weighing thoughts of suicide. Craig quickly transitions from these ideas to observations of the more specific scene that begins "Part 1: Where I'm At." Craig is hanging out at his friend Aaron's place; Craig's friend Ronny and Aaron's girlfriend Nia are also present. Craig briefly envisions the possibility of a life without responsibility, then hides out in Aaron's bathroom, overcome with a sense of social anxiety and personal insecurity.
The narrative then transitions to a meeting between Craig and his therapist, Dr. Minerva. Craig explains that he has had trouble sleeping. Life is mostly nightmarish to him, although he does enjoy simple tasks such as urinating. Craig also reverts to some of the personal terminology he has developed for his mental conditions: he has sources of support called Anchors, unsettling forces called Tentacles, and a possibility of renewal called the Shift. At Dr. Minerva's prompting, he attempts (with limited success) to reflect on his childhood.
Craig then explains what his life was like when he was only four years old. His family lived in a small, unimpressive apartment, and Craig himself gravitated to maps and art; at one point, he attempted to draw his own map of Manhattan, but found the attempt itself frustrating and upsetting. In response to this problematic attempt, Craig's mother urged him to create maps of imaginary places instead of reproductions of existing maps. The process of creating such maps served as one of his Anchors, until he turned nine.
The narrative then returns to Craig's discussion with Dr. Minerva, who learns of Craig's earlier map-making. It is also revealed that Craig is on medication and is seeing a second doctor, a psychopharmacologist named Dr. Barney. Craig pays Dr. Minerva, returns to his home in Brooklyn, and reflects on his eating habits. For him there are only two possible eating experiences: rapid and enthusiastic eating, or eating that involves extreme mental and physical strain. At home, Craig greets his dogs Rudy and Jordan, his sister Sarah, and his parents. His mother has made dinner; the entire family attempts a pleasant conversation during the meal. However, Craig has considerable trouble eating and rushes to the bathroom, where he vomits.
In "Part II: How I Got There," Craig attempts to trace the origins of his problems with depression. Two years before the events already described, Craig was accepted into Executive Pre-Professional High School; he earned his place in this prestigious academy be studying nonstop for the entrance exam and securing a perfect 800 out of 800 score. The studying process had caused Craig to lose touch with many of his friends, although he did form a bond with Aaron, a confident and talented student whose idea of recreation, nonetheless, mainly involves smoking pot and watching television.
Craig discovers that Aaron also earned a place in Executive Pre-Professional, and the two of them decide to throw a celebration party at Aaron's place. Craig brings scotch, while Aaron supplies pot, music, and most of the guests. One of the guests is Nia, another high-achieving student; she and Aaron form a relationship during the party. Craig, for his part, has the chance to have his first kiss with a girl named Julie. He passes up on the opportunity.
After the party winds down in the early morning, Aaron and Craig decide to walk across the Brooklyn bridge. Aaron is somewhat preoccupied with his new relationship with Nia, while Craig reflects on the scenery and on his own feelings of strong contentment. At one point, he stands over the water and calls out the word "Eulalia!" (an exclamation Craig remembers from the Redwall book series). However, in Craig's own view, Craig's life begins to go downhill soon after the party at Aaron's.
Craig spends the rest of junior high socializing with Aaron. Once Craig enters Executive Pre-Professional, though, he finds himself overwhelmed by the difficulty of the work and the other students' impressive academic backgrounds. He experiences difficulty eating and thoughts of death, and hears a voice that refers to him as "soldier" speaking in his head.
To address these mounting problems, Craig goes to an appointment with Dr. Barney. Dr. Barney is a pleasant man whose office is full of merchandise branded by various pharmaceutical companies; he learns of Craig's ailments and discovers the high ambitions (getting exceptional grades, getting into an Ivy League school) that Craig harbors. He also reveals that he sorted through problems of his own after college and, consequently, decided to help people like Craig deal with their own mental pain. After learning of Craig's symptoms, Dr. Barney recommends that Craig see a new psychologist and prescribes Zoloft, a medication that he says can address Craig's depression.
At first, taking Zoloft transforms Craig's way of thinking. He spends time with his sister and opens up to Nia, who it turns out is also on medication, in her case Prozac. There are episodes that seem to take Craig backwards towards his negative tendencies. Nonetheless, when he runs out of Zoloft, he feels confident enough in himself that he does not seek any more medication—a choice that leads to a return of his troubled feelings.
Vizzini begins It's Kind of a Funny Story in a manner that may surprise some readers. Rather than easing into the darker aspects of his material, he confronts Craig's suicidal and depressive tendencies from the first chapter on. This tactic is a testament to Vizzini's confidence in his project and its importance; Craig's problems, and the problems of other teens in roughly his position, are too pressing to be shied away from. But this straightforwardness sets Vizzini the challenge of crafting a novel that is not overly dark, a work that will both lead readers along and deliver the truth about teen depression and suicide with brutal honesty.
In part, Vizzini rises to this challenge by combining earnestness, melancholy, and scathing humor in a convincing narrative voice. Craig is sensitive and observant, and delivers some descriptions (for instance, his response to the Brooklyn Bridge) that are almost artistic in their attention to detail. The humor in Craig's voice comes partly from Craig's own honesty and sarcasm, partly from the events he observes. After all, the novel begins with a ridiculous exchange between Aaron and Ronny, one of Craig's most eccentric friends, and later features a party at Aaron's house: "where else did you get shattering glasses, a kind trying to break-dance in the living room, a dictionary being thrown at a roach, a kid holding his head in the freezer and saying it could get you high . . . ?" (74). Craig is aware of how lively and ridiculous these surroundings are, and the reader can at least temporarily share some of his amusement.
For all this, Craig is in many ways in a position that feels both enviable and typical. He has supportive parents, accepting friends, and opportunities to succeed. Nothing about his situation, at first, seems conducive to extreme depression; even his fixation on Aaron and Nia's relationship may strike some readers as the kind of reaction that, though heightened at times, is fairly normal among emotional high schoolers. If anything takes Craig's situation out of the ordinary, it is the workload at Executive Pre-Professional. The other students set a standard of accomplishment that, for Craig, is simply oppressive.
Craig's major flaws are his devotion to tasks that are ultimately self-defeating and his belief that he can function without assistance. This side of his personality is foreshadowed by the solitary study process that he undertakes for the Executive Pre-Professional entrance exam, but continues to manifest itself after he enrolls in the school. As Craig muses, "I had gotten into the school; I'd definitely be able to take anything they could dish out, right?" (94). Oddly enough, Craig does fare rather well even in these demanding settings, earning respectable 93s. Yet he sees himself as a failure because the students around him seem more secure, more confident, and have found prodigy-like ways to excel.
While It's Kind of a Funny Story traces the onset of Craig's major problems to his entrance into high school, the novel is much more ambiguous about the other possible causes of Craig's depressive and suicidal thoughts. His childhood is indeed described, but how his childhood relates to his depression is left up to the reader's own interpretation. Yet Vizzini is remarkably clear in describing how Craig's present personality plays out. Indeed, the trait of misguided initiative and independence that explains his gravitation to Executive Pre-Professional also explains why he stops taking his medication. Such personal flaws must be addressed—or the future consequences, for Craig, will only be more catastrophic.