I’ve been following Jennifer Niven on Twitter for quite a while. Often, I’ll end up following authors while knowing very little about their books. I get personally attached to these people I don’t know because they’re just that lovely online, and often end up buying their books. Sometimes that doesn’t always work out well – a nice personality does not a good writer make.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that happening for long with this one. All The Bright Places hit me hard, and I was surprised by how it caught me off guard.
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
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.
So I should have written this review straight away, but I was finding it hard because it was 3am and I was broken. I was texting my sister, who was hiding in the bathroom, also crying at a book she’d just finished, and I didn’t really know how to put it into words other than “it hurts all over.” A warning to all those contemplating reading this book: it may very well break your heart, but you’ll be better off for it.
Violet is suffering, but nobody knows it. After an accident which she walked away from, and her older sister didn’t, she refuses to get back into a car, she drops all of her hobbies, she even stops writing – and then finds herself up on a ledge where she meets Finch. Finch is the weird kid, ‘Theodore Freak’, who has his own issues to deal with. He has come out of his most recent period of being Asleep, a state that I know all too well. The complexities of this feeling that Niven captures are intricate and real. Having also dealt with loss during my teenage years, it also became apparent that the writing was coming from a place of experience and understanding that most authors tackling these issues lack.
Violet and Finch are thrown together by their secret of what really happened up on the ledge of their school’s bell-tower, nudged closer by Finch’s insistence they work together on a US Geography project, and their stories start to intertwine. Of course they fall in love, they were always going to, but it’s how they fall in love that matters.
The most important part of my experience of reading All The Bright Places was that I initially really disliked both of the characters. I thought they were both contrived, over the top, a bit forced, and both kind of pretentious in their own way. What I loved most was that the insight into their mind, their relationship, and ultimately, their ending, was enough to bring me to feel for them anyway. I didn’t particularly like them as characters, as people, but I began to love them as humans, as sappy as that sounds. For those who dislike the general tropes of YA romance that in some ways this book may subscribe to, it’s still worth reading, because it will prove to you that despite all of that, despite the love triangles, the messiness, the showing off, the unrealistic dialogue, the unrealistic everything – the mental health issues are real. They exist in real people, and the heartbreaking notion that these two young people are going through this in a fictional novel is enough to remind us that so many people go through these horrors every day, and we need to be keeping mental health in our daily, public conversations until more is done to improve it.
There have been a lot of books written about mental illness, about bereavement, about suicide, about bi-polar disorder, but few that I think will have such an instant and profound effect on their readers. This book isn’t perfect, but it’s needed, it’s necessary, and it’s important. To me, a book can be well-written, but if it doesn’t mean something, then what is the point? This book matters. Read it. Then recommend more like it, to me, to your friends, your family, your followers.
My personal rating: 4/5. Amazon average: 4.7/5. Goodreads average: 4.22/5.
Publishers: Knopf / Penguin.
Publication Date: January 6th, 2015.