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Crazy: A Novel

Crazy: A Novel

4.4 21
by Benjamin Lebert, Carol Brown Janeway

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A smart, funny, poignant, very modern autobiographical coming-of-age novel, written when the author was sixteen years old. Like Catcher in the Rye, Crazy appeals to the teenager in us all.

Benni himself is partially paralyzed and a serial failure (he's been kicked out of four boarding schools in his short life and has just entered his


A smart, funny, poignant, very modern autobiographical coming-of-age novel, written when the author was sixteen years old. Like Catcher in the Rye, Crazy appeals to the teenager in us all.

Benni himself is partially paralyzed and a serial failure (he's been kicked out of four boarding schools in his short life and has just entered his fifth). So he's a little odd, but he's cool and he finds other strange boys to hang with. Together they set out to experience what they can: girls, booze, sex, philosophy, drugs, sex, books, music, sex–pretty much everything whatever. And Benni lets us in on "the crazy life" he figures is the only way to deal with the crazy world.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Anything he writes is, by definition, pitch-perfect.”–The New York Times Book Review
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
When young German Benni ("the ultimate outsider") finds himself at a remedial boarding school, he discovers that his real education takes place after hours. In this "1990's Catcher in the Rye," the "partially paralyzed" Benni is hot on the trail of the Secret of Life: Booze, sex, and a Munich strip club are just the beginning. "Reads like a memoir." "Refreshing and enjoyable," wrote some reviewers. For others, it was "plotless." "Written for a young adult audience, but I'd be CRAZY to give this to my teen."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Boarding school antics and teenage epiphanies fuel this slim but entertaining runaway German bestseller (more than 200,00 copies sold), an autobiographical debut by Lebert, who's 16. Benjamin, the novel's protagonist, is also 16, a misfit who must struggle against a near-paralysis of his left side and a chronic lack of academic aptitude to merely get through life. Having flunked out of four schools before the novel's beginning, he comes to Neuseelen, his fifth, where he must graduate from ninth grade or else. He quickly befriends a set of similarly maladjusted teens; together, they search the school grounds for excitement. When such limited pleasures as after-hours booze and raunchy teen sex wear thin, they head for Munich, where they are guided by a wise old man (who claims to sing "the song of life") to a strip club for a night of drink and debauchery. As the book moves toward its end, Benjamin flunks out yet again and is sent home, without any sign that school or life have taught him anything. Lebert's knowing yet ingenuous voice and the flatness of his exposition give character to his tale, but the action revolves around the cliches of adolescent life. Although the characters are likable and also quite believable, they don't grow substantially from their coming of age. Ultimately most interesting as a publishing phenomenon--Lebert's insights into human psychology, society and development are understandably limited--the novel moves along at a good clip, and what it lacks in depth it does make up for in animation and verve. Rights sold in Denmark, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Italy, the U.K., France, Spain, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Estonia, Croatia, Brazil, Greece, Taiwan, Portugal, Poland, Sweden; Turkey, Israel, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
VOYA - Voya Reviews
At the age of sixteen, Benjamin Lebert has already been thrown out of four boarding schools and does not have much hope of making it to graduation in his present one. He cannot understand math, his parents are splitting, his sister is a lesbian, and he is partially paralyzed on his left side. Despite these handicaps, Ben manages to lose his virginity in the bathroom of the girls' dormitory and sneak into a Munich strip club with his buddies, all the while philosophizing heavy-handedly about God and the meaning of life. This is your run-of-the-mill, teenage angst novel, and frankly, the German teen author, who shares his name with his protagonist, does not shed any new light on the subject. Crazy is poorly written, clichéd, and full of shallow titillation. There are, however, a few small gems buried in the manure, such as when Ben discusses his parents' arguments--"Sometimes it's about my upbringing. Sometimes it's about their own upbringing. And sometimes it's just about who should take the goddamn empties back to the supermarket." Sadly, these clever remarks are the exception rather than the norm. Nevertheless older teens will probably be curious about this novel and eager to see what kind of writing their peers can produce. It is just a shame there is not a better example than this. Oh, wait, I forgot. There is--The Outsiders (Viking, 1967), and it was written by Susie Hinton when she was in her teens. This heavily marketed title is for very limited purchase. VOYA CODES: 1Q 4P S (Hard to understand how it got published; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000 (orig. 1999), Knopf, Ages 16 to 18, 178p, $17.95. Reviewer: Jennifer Hubert
Doing crazy things is one way teens have of experimenting with life and learning to define who they are. Benjamin Lebert, a teenager himself, has written an extremely funny, and at the same time touching, boarding school story, undoubtedly containing some autobiographical elements since the main character is 16-year-old Benni Lebert. The left side of Benni's body has been partially paralyzed from birth. Identified as a cripple and math failure by his family and his four past boarding schools, Benni has always been "the odd man out," often tortured by his classmates. Only after he arrives at Castle Neuseelen Boarding School do Benni and a group of similar misfits—Fat Felix, Troy, Glob, Florian (a.k.a. Girl), and Skinny Felix—form a bond of friendship, a blood brotherhood, led by the fearless Janosch Schwarze. The word "crazy" appears frequently in the novel to describe their antics, which include drinking, running away from school to Munich, sexual escapades in the girls' dorm, a sex clinic and a strip club, and frequent philosophizing on literature, religion, God, life and its purpose, and the necessity of taking risks. Reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye, Crazy (translated from the German) is far more sexually explicit and ribald in its portrayal of the exploits of youth, while being, at the same time, more affirming of the value of each person regardless of physical limitations and personal weaknesses. Teens will love this book, although some administrators might object to the language and explicit sex. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Random House, Vintage, 178p., $11.00. Ages 16 to adult.Reviewer: Susan G. Allison; Libn., Lewiston H.S., Lewiston, ME , September 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 5)
Library Journal
Holden Caulfield at a German boarding school? Not quite, but in this debut novel six teenagers confront issues of spirituality, sexuality, bereavement, family discord, and all the other ills that the flesh is heir to. Crazy was a best seller in Germany, and Lebert was 16 at its first publication, which no doubt contributed to the book's popularity. Yet Crazy isn't only a literary phenomenon; it is a tart and moving book. The boys are supportive of one another in ways one would not expect, and their search for the meaning of life--the meaning of Hemingway, any sort of meaning--is vividly and cinematically portrayed. Suitable for both adult and YA collections, but selectors should be aware that there is one graphic, although decidedly unerotic, scene of sexual initiation. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00.]--Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-The young protagonist is shuffled between boarding schools supposedly for poor grades in math and German (his native language), but more likely because of his inability to mesh with the image the administrators have about the students who attend their schools. Benni is partially paralyzed on his right side, a condition that seems to have more of an effect on the adults around him than on his peers, and he forms a natural clique with a group of fellow outcasts. Benni, Fat Felix, Skinny Felix, Janosch the ringleader, Troy the bed wetter, and Florian aka Girl go in search of an existential experience, which includes sex but also encompasses finding the meaning of life with a capital L. The boys develop a philosophy of the soul that includes keeping yourself spiritually alive into adulthood and doing the crazy things that enable life to speak through you, in all its hard, crappy glory. The obvious comparison to Holden Caulfield is misplaced here; the adults who surround these students are not phonies or actively evil, but presented as minor obstacles to the experience of real life, when they appear in the boys' consciousness at all. The novel is nearly over before an adult assists the runaways by buying them tickets to Munich and introducing them to adult entertainment. Comparisons of the teen novelist to S. E. Hinton are somewhat obvious, but what is more important than outcast status and the bonding of family in this novel is the ability to create a family among people far from home, with only one another to draw on.-Sheryl Fowler, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.15(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.49(d)

Read an Excerpt

Concerning my son, Benjamin Lebert's, partial paralysis, it says on it. How many times have I pushed this envelope into a teacher's hand? A dozen at least. Now I get to do it again. Jörg Richter reaches hastily for the envelope. His eyes glint with curiosity. He opens the letter. To my horror he reads it out loud. His voice is clear and full of understanding:Dear Mr. Richter,

My son Benjamin has had a partial paralysis of the left side of the body since birth. This means that the functioning of the left side of his body, particularly the arm and the leg, is limited. In practical terms, this means that he either cannot perform or has difficulty performing such fine motor tasks as tying his shoes, using a knife and fork, drawing geometrical figures, using a pair of scissors. In addition, he has problems with sports, cannot ride a bicycle, and has difficulty with any movement that involves a sense of balance. I hope you will give him your support by taking note of these things. Many thanks. Warm regards,

Jutta LebertAs the last word is read out, I shut my eyes. I want to be somewhere else, where explanations are superfluous. I slowly go back to my parents. They are standing by the wall, holding hands. You can see they're glad to have explained things. Jörg Richter looks up. He nods. "We will pay attention to Benjamin's handicap," he says. No questions.

We go up to my room. It's on the second floor, not far away. You go down a long wooden corridor that opens onto a long wooden staircase. The walls are snow white. We follow the headmaster upstairs. I hold my father's hand. Soon we reach another corridor.

"From now on you're at home here," says Jörg Richter. The walls are no longer white but yellow. It's meant to be an appealing yellow, but it misses. The floor is covered in gray linoleum. It doesn't go with the yellow walls. The corridor is empty. The other kids aren't back yet from winter vacation. Beside one of the windows is a plaque: THE TEACHER IN CHARGE OF THIS CORRIDOR IS LUKAS LANDORF, it says. ALL REQUESTS FOR MONEY FOR SHOPPING IN THE VILLAGE, ALL ISSUING OF POCKET MONEY, ALL REGULATION OF BEDTIMES AND AUTHORIZATIONS OF ANY KIND ARE HANDLED BY HIM. LUKAS LANDORF IS IN ROOM 219.

Mr. Richter points at the plaque. He twinkles. "Lukas Landorf will be your teacher, too. You'll like him. He's new here himself. Unfortunately, he won't be back from vacation for another couple of hours, but I know you'll have plenty of time to get to know him."

I look around for my father. He's standing behind me. He cuts a large figure. All strength. I don't want to see him go.

My mother is already inside. I follow her. It's a small room; it looked quite different in the brochure. The pale parquet floor is cracked and you can see holes in it. There's a bed squashed against each long wall. Both beds are old farmhouse style. In the middle there's a big flat desk with two chairs. One of them has a cushion with the eagle on it. Two cupboards for clothes against the wall. One of them's locked — the other must be for me. In addition, two nightstands and two storage cupboards, which seem to be meant to function as bookcases. Walls white. The only posters are above the bed on the left. Most of them fall into the category of sports or computer games. My roommate, who presumably put them up, isn't here yet. My father and Mr. Richter follow us into the room. Three suitcases and a bag are put down on the floor. I think about the secretary, Mrs. Lerch. Thirty years in this dump. Richter pulls open a drawer in the desk and fishes out a little plaque, four thumbtacks, and a hammer. He leaves the room and fixes the plaque to the door. Later I read: ROOM 211, JANOSCH ALEXANDER SCHWARZE (10TH GRADE) AND BENJAMIN LEBERT (9TH GRADE).

So now it's official. I'm stuck here. Possibly till I graduate. My parents are leaving. We say goodbye. I watch them go back down the corridor. Hear the doors creak. The footsteps on the wooden floors. The staircase. Mr. Richter goes with them. He has promised to be back soon. He has to talk over finances with my parents. Not my place. Hope I see them again soon. I take a bag and begin to unpack. Underwear, sweatshirts, sweaters, jeans. Where the hell is my checked shirt?

Janosch says the food is lousy. As in lousy.

As in seven days in the week. He's standing in the bathroom, washing his feet. I'm waiting. All the washbasins are in use. It's a big bathroom. Six washbasins, four showers. All tiled. All in use. Another five kids are waiting with me. The rest are asleep.

The floor is awash. No shower curtains. My feet are getting wet. With luck it'll be my turn soon. But things drag on. Janosch squeezes a pimple. Then washes his hands. When I get to the front of the line, I can't see a thing. The mirror's all fogged up — from the showers. Nice. Janosch waits for me. I decide I'd better be quick. I hastily brush my teeth and wash my face, then dry my hands. We leave the bathroom. It's only ten yards from our room. We go down the hall. Apparently it's known as Tarts' Alley, or Landorf Lane, after the teacher in charge. Sixteen kids live along here, all ages thirteen to nineteen. They're divided three to a room or two to a room, and there's one single room. This is for a particularly rough character called Troy — I can't remember his last name. Janosch talks about him a lot. Apparently he's weird, and he's been here a long time. A long time.

Our teacher in charge, Lukas Landorf, comes down Tarts' Alley. Not exactly a standout. A mop of black hair hanging down into his eyes. Old-fashioned glasses. He's a little taller than I am but not much. Janosch says Landorf never changes his green sweater. Apparently he's cheap — cheap as a Scot, according to Janosch — but otherwise a nice guy. Not too strict. Notices nothing. Even lets girls into the rooms. Human Valium. Some of the other teachers in charge are a lot more wide awake.

Lukas Landorf comes over to us. Smiles. He's got a young face. Can't be much more than thirty.

"So? Has Janosch shown you everything?"

"Yes," I say, "everything."

"Except the library," says Janosch. "We missed that. Can I show it to him now?"

"No you can't. Heavy day tomorrow. You guys have to get to bed." As he says that, he moves on. Looks a little wobbly on his feet. Must be missing his vacation already. Me too. Just a couple of days in South Tirol this time — that was it. Including a minor run-in with my older sister, Paula. But it was paradise, as I can see now.

We go into our room. Janosch wants to talk. It's this girl he's fallen in love with. Bonding seems to be a pretty quick process around this place. I've been here seven hours, and we're into girls already. Not my thing.

It's not just because I'm disabled. I've had about as much luck with girls thus far as I've had in school, i.e., zip. The only thing I've been good at is eyeing them while the other guys nailed the ones I'd fallen for. I really had that down. Janosch talks and talks. I really feel sorry for the guy. He talks about flowers, blinding lights, and big tits. I can picture the whole thing and I'm with him all the way. A girl like that is something else. I sit down on the bed. My left leg aches, the way it does in the evening. It's been doing it for sixteen years. My bad leg. I can't count the times I've just wanted to amputate it and throw it away, along with my left arm. Why do I need either of them anyway? All they tell me is what I can't do — can't run, can't jump, can't be happy. But I've never actually done it — amputation, I mean. Maybe I need them to figure out math.

Or to fuck. If I want to fuck, I probably need my fucking left leg. Janosch by now is on to another subject — his childhood. He's saying that life used to be so great and it isn't anymore. And he says how cool it would be just to get out of this place and take off. Because it's about being free.

Janosch says the most important thing is being free. I know better than to say anything. First of all, I've only just got here. I'd like to take off too. No question — take off and run, and keep running. We smoke cigarettes. Against the rules, apparently, but so what.

Janosch lit mine with a match. I can't do it on my own — takes two hands. If Lukas Landorf turns up, we'll throw them out the window. We're both sitting where we can do this. The window is wide open. Janosch looks at me. He's obviously tired. His eyes are deep blue and they look wet. The top of his bleach-blond head keeps nodding down toward the bedclothes. He gets up, stubs out the cigarette on the windowsill, and throws it out into the darkness of the parking lot. Just a few hours ago I was standing down there. Now I'm standing up above. In the center of things. Perhaps it's for the best. I throw my cigarette out too. Then we go to sleep. Or, rather, we try. Janosch talks about Malen, his girl. "She's unbelievably special." I'm impressed. Most kids I know say something else about their girls. Janosch just says she's special. That's it. It's great. I wish him luck with Malen. The night sky is clear and there's no moon. I sit at the window, the way I usually do.

I push myself up in bed, tired. It was an exhausting night. Not much sleep. A lot of sitting and waiting. Outside the sky is lightening. Maybe a sign. Then again, maybe not. Who knows.

The alarm clock goes off. A horrible noise that says first day of school. It also says math. It's also probably saying you scored 6 again. But I don't hear that yet. I turn it off. My black jeans and white pink floyd — the wall T-shirt are ready. I put them on my side of the desk last night. My mother packed them both for me, right on top, next to my schoolbooks. What a surprise! I get dressed. I know where to go. Janosch showed me. He's still asleep. Maybe I should wake him. There are stiff punishments for sleeping in, apparently, but I know he knows this himself. I find a piece of paper in my pants pocket. I recognize my father's swooping handwriting:Dear Benni,

I know this is a tough time for you. And I also know that you'll have to rely on yourself for lots of things. But please know that it's all for the best, and be brave.

Be brave. It's all for the best. Nicely said. Really nice. Can't complain. I'll keep the note. Maybe show it to my children, so they can see what a big guy their father was, a really big guy. I stuff the piece of paper back in my pocket, then set off for breakfast. The dining hall is at the other end of the Castle.

I head along Tarts' Alley, down the never-ending stairs to the main corridor, and eventually reach the headmaster's office. Then it's on through the official reception corridor, past Mrs. Lerch's room, down the stairs to the west wing, which lead directly to the dining hall. The west-wing stairs are old; with every step you take the wood groans and creaks as if it's begging for immediate relief. The dining hall is vast, with at least seventeen tables that seat a minimum of eight each. The walls have this beautiful paneling, and there are real paintings on them, showing wars, peace, love, and — no surprise here — eagles clutching schoolbags. I sit down at a table that's sort of squashed into a corner, and the only other kid sharing it with me is a sixth grader. The roll tastes dry. Every attempt to spread butter on it founders on my inability to hold it steady in my left hand. I keep trying but no luck. The roll shoots right across the table. A couple of girls sitting at a nearby table who've been following the action snigger. I'm ashamed. I retrieve the roll as quick as I can and ask the sixth grader to butter it for me. "So how old are you?" he asks. "Sixteen," I say. "By the time you're sixteen, you should have learned how to butter a roll," he says, and hands it back to me unbuttered. The girls snicker. I drink my tea.

"By the time you're sixteen, you should have learned to grasp a set square," asserts Rolf Falkenstein, the math teacher. He hands it back to me without having given me any help in drawing the proof of the theorem. Tough luck. So here I am on my first day of school. I shake my head. But everything started really well. The first classes, French and English, went fine, and I got through my famous fucking introductory aria. Usual thing. Come in and face the class, no idea where to stick your hands, and say:

Hi folks, my name is Benjamin Lebert, I'm sixteen, and I'm a cripple, just so you know. I thought it would interest you the way it does me.

Class 9B, which is the one I'm in, reacted the usual way: a couple of sideways glances, a little tittering, the first quick looks to size me up. For the boys I was now another of the nerds to be ignored, and for the girls I was just plain dead. Quite an achievement.

The French teacher, Heide Bachmann, says that here at Castle Neuseelen it doesn't matter whether anyone has a disability or not. What matters here at Neuseelen is loving, and hence binding values and social skills. Good to know. Class 9B isn't large: twelve kids, me included. Not like the state schools, where the minimum is around thirty-five. But they're not supposed to count. Here, we count. We count so much you can hear the place buckling under our psychic weight. We sit, like one big family, in a horseshoe facing the teacher. We love one another so much, we're practically holding hands. Boarding school as isolation chamber. One group, one circle of friends, one family. And Rolf Falkenstein, our math teacher, is our daddy. He's big. About six foot two. Pale face with prominent cheekbones. One of those guys who wear their age on their foreheads. Fifty — not six months' difference one way or the other. Falkenstein's hair is greasy, color nondescript, presumably gray, as far as I can figure out. His fingernails are long and a mess. He scares me a bit. He smacks his big set square against the blackboard and draws a line, straight through a geometrical structure. I think it's some sort of a baseline. I try to copy it. Can't do it. The set square keeps slipping off to the side. Finally I do it freehand. The result is a sort of mathematical cartoon, more like a kite than a straight line. After class Falkenstein calls me aside. "You need some remedial coaching," he says. "About an hour a day, I'd say." I can feel the joy. "Okay. If that's what it takes." I leave.

Meet the Author

Benjamin Lebert was born in Freiburg in 1982 and has lived in Munich since he was eight. He writes articles for the young-adult supplement of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich's leading newspaper.

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Crazy: A Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*sighs* "its ok manuel dont cry please my new... freind said he will help me take care of you" *manuel keeps crying* "well its our last day here before we move to a new home."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*sits and waits*
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The book crazy was a great book. I just wanted to keep reading, never put the book down. It didn't take me that long to read either. Maybe an hour or two.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was excellent. I loved the thought of a 16 year old trying to explain life. It was a page turner throughout the entire story, I couldn't put it down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so good. Its truly all about growing up and I definatly recomend it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
16 YEAR OLD BENNI was being send to a boarding school,he was a cripple,made alot of friends had some'experiences'!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I once read a chapter of this book in a teenage girl's magazine and I loved it. I finally just got around to looking up and buying this book. Let me just say, Mr. Lebert, that you are my new favorite author. This book was not only exciting and fast paced, but it was extremely honest and deep. I recommend it to anyone, of any age. It is truly a work of art and I would very much like to meet Benjamin Lebert, writer to writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was shocked when i read this. I had no idea what a great writer Lebert was. I didnt put the book down, its fast & easy reading and it took me a day to read it. I am 17 and i can relate to somethings b/c of our age! I have recommended this book to all of my friends!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I originally picked up Crazy because I was feeling pretty bored one afternoon, had nothing else to read, and remembered the title from some magazine. I started it feeling less than enthusiastic, but once I got into it, there was no turning back. I read it from cover to cover and did not eat or acknowledge the existence of my friends or family until I was through (fortunately, I was done the evening I bought it). What a talented writer Benni is. I do a lot of writing myself, and to bare yourself and your feelings completely the way he manages to do so effortlessly and eloquently is probably one of the hardest tasks an author can undertake. The kid may not be good at math, but he's definitely some sort of genius. Everyone should read this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i never read... really.. but this book captured me. although, it's quite vulgar in it's own way, it's an excellent book that titles the teenage life in a realistic way. If you don't read, you will after this book. He's a talented writer. There is an important message to this book. READ IT!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very good book and not only that but also makes you really think a lot about Ben's life and you if you were in his shoes. I couldn't stop reading till i finished it. I would like to meet Benjamine.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book doesn't promise to be uplifting or a page turner, but I found it to be both. The feelings and experiences described in this book so acuratly describe real teen emotions that almost anyone could realate. I thought the plot was very good as well. The character is one not fully described, but he's very deep and it lets you discover him for yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! That's basically all you have to hear. It is written great and is very deep. After reading this book you come out with a new perspective on life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book really portrays the life of a teenager! The author has the characters debate about certain situations and how they reacted. They philosophize about anything that comes into there mind. A few were hesitant at times, but trusted and followed there friends. Good Luck Benni on 'Literature'! Math isn't everything, after all you have become successful!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is by far the best book i've read since the perks of being a wallflower. It covers such a vast area in teen life yet describes it so accurately. I hope to see more from Lebert in the future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books i've read in a long time. It discusses issues that most teenagers face, from sex to freedom. It also talkes about fighting parents and having a disabilty. A very well written book that everyone should get a chance to read.