4th April 1981 – 19th December 2013
It was just before Christmas when the news broke. I felt sick to my stomach. I balled my eyes out. As I never met him, I didn’t have an anecdote to share on Twitter, or a story to share on Facebook. But not knowing him didn’t make the news any less than a huge, horrible shock. I still can’t believe it’s happened. I still can’t bring myself to watch him on YouTube. It’s raw.
But I don’t want this post to be about my grief. I don’t want to get maudlin, and I don’t want to want to get sycophantic, even though that wouldn’t be impossible.
I’m going to write about what made me love Ned so much. His writing.
Be More Chill
novel, September 2005
It’s just the most ridiculously clever and funny story. Jeremy is a sort-of outcast at his high school, constantly feeling not smart enough, not funny enough – not cool enough. Then he hears about a squip, a digestible computer which will tell him (in the disembodied voice of Keanu Reeves) what to say, what to do, and how to be supercool. The voice of the squip is in bold text, making each statement shout out at you just like it is inside Jeremy’s brain. The squip’s unintentional comedy moments born out of its binary system are brilliant.
“Maybe we can hang out some time.” Say it like you don’t care about your own death.
“Maybe we can hang out some time.”
Chloe… Jesus, Chloe is looking right at me!
Don’t smile. Stay intense. And don’t think Jesus. Think fuck.
“Whatever,” Chloe finally says.
Be More Chill is more than a clever page-turner. Ned Vizzini really got into what it is like to be a teenage boy. I thought it was fascinating. And even though I read the book as a 20-something, I was surprised at how much boys can and do worry and stress about interactions with girls. They always seemed so cool when I was a teen. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t have squips, but who knows?
Ned wrote really sweet, funny columns about growing up in New York (including funny people he met on the subway, girls he met, random guys he played chess with, his love of Nintendo and Magic the Gathering) which were published in the New York Press newspaper. These columns are all in his book Teen Angst? .. Nah! which I also really recommend.
Rutford Becomes a Man
short story, May 2004
This collection of short stories are all about how it feels to be turning sixteen. There are stories about sex, and religion and getting your driver’s permit.
Ned’s story throws you into the middle of the Wild West in 1897, where Rutford is intent on not celebrating his sixteeth birthday. However, his father has a special birthday present for him – a trip to the local brothel. After reading this one short story, I felt like I knew Rutford so well. That’s what made Ned such a great writer. His characters were effortlessly brought to life as I read. Rutford is riddled with teenage angst, apathy and atheism. He’s a nineteeth century Adrian Mole and Morrissey combination.
I want to write about what happens in the brothel because it’s the sweetest part of the story, but then that would spoil it for you, so I won’t.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
novel, April 2007
I don’t like to use the phrase ‘life changing’ because it’s just so hackneyed – but this is a life changing book. Sorry, but it is.
It tells the story of Craig, who has anxious and suicidal thoughts that race through his mind. He is really feeling the pressure at school, and he has a crush on his best friend’s girlfriend, and he doesn’t know what will happen in his future. When it becomes too much for him, he phones the suicide hotline. He ends up checking into the psych ward at his local hospital.
“People are screwed up in this world. I’d rather be with someone screwed up and open about it than somebody perfect and ready to explode.”
Did I mention this book is really funny, too? It is. Craig’s experiences in the hospital and the people he meet are described in such a relateable and yet absurd way.
After I read the book I found out that it was based on a real life experience. Ned spent some time in his twenties in a hospital for his depression and anxiety. He said – “It’s Kind of a Funny Story is 85% true. I actually did spend a week in the adult wing of a psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn after calling a suicide hotline in fall 2004. I was 23 at the time, however, not 15. I made the main character, Craig, 15 in the book but gave him my problems and worldview. Then I added the love triangle.”
This book has given a lot of people strength to keep living, despite everything.
Ned gave talks in colleges – “How Not to Go Crazy in College” because he wanted to help people deal with stress and anxiety. He really wanted to share his advice with as many people as possible. He told people not to sell themselves short and to remember that stress is not a real threat. It’s too sad for me to watch right now, but it gives me so much happiness too, because he really wanted for people to feel happier, more calm. I know he helped a lot of people, and his novels will continue to touch hearts.