All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
Review: It took me days to write this review because All the Bright Places required a lot of mental processing time.
Violet and Finch meet at the top of a bell tower, where they are both contemplating jumping. They quickly become friends and pair up to work on a “natural wonders” school project. As they travel around Indiana in search of wonders, they learn more about themselves and each other than they do about the state.
So . . . I love this book. For me, it’s relatable. It’s about kids who are struggling with mental illness and don’t understand what’s going on in their minds or how to ask for help. It’s about kids who are failed by all the systems that are put in place to protect them. Sometimes, teachers and parents fail to see something that’s right in front of them. The book is about searching for an identity that will make you happy. Most importantly, it’s about how love can’t cure illnesses (thank you, Jennifer Niven, for addressing that stupid trope). Finally, it’s about moving on after a loss. It's for all the people who have been left behind and are trying to find a way to move forward. There’s a lot going on in this story.
“I know life well enough to know you can’t count on things staying around or standing still, no matter how much you want them to. You can’t stop people from dying. You can’t stop them from going away. You can’t stop yourself from going away either. I know myself well enough to know that no one else can keep you awake or keep you from sleeping.” – All the Bright Places
The characters and writing style remind me a lot of a John Green novel, so if you like his work, you’ll probably like this book. The writing is thought-provoking and emotionally hard-hitting. The teenage characters are so sweet and precocious that they’ll make you throw up in your mouth a little. Seriously, they sit around quoting Virginia Woolf at each other. Even though college forced so many of Woolf’s awful books down my throat that I have heartburn just thinking about them, I can forgive the characters. Finch is obsessed with suicide, so he has a reason besides annoying precociousness to be thinking about Woolf. Normally, I’m not a fan of quirky, ultra-intelligent characters (because they’re overdone in YA), but there’s enough going on in this book that I could overlook it.
The writing is excellent. The story is told from two points-of-view, and both characters have very distinct voices. Finch’s chapters are my favorite. I think the author did a great job of showing his slow climb into mania and quick drop into depression. The reader knows the manic state can’t last, so it’s like watching a devastating, slow-motion train crash. You desperately want to reach through the pages and save him, but you can’t. You can’t do anything except wait to see how bad it gets.
“It's my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.” - All the Bright Places
I do have a few problems with the book. First, some parts of it dragged, especially toward the end. Second, I know it’s possible to miss a kid’s health issues, but it seems like Finch’s were pretty obvious, and nobody did anything. The kids at his school even voted him “most likely to commit suicide” in their secret newspaper (which the teachers knew about). Since Finch’s problems are so public, I think someone would have made a bigger deal about them.
Those are tiny critiques. All the Bright Places is probably going to be one of my favorite books I read this year. I love thought-provoking stories, and this one was still stuck in my brain days after I finished it. I’m looking forward to Jennifer Niven’s next book.