Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the top of their school’s bell tower as they both contemplate suicide.
Finch is considered a bit of an eccentric who is well-known around the school for being a bit strange and acting out, while Violet is one of the popular girls. What brings two opposites together and finds them standing on the edge of a tower, thinking about jumping off?
Before either of them can pluck up the courage, fellow students on the ground look up and assume that Violet is the hero saving weirdo Finch from yet another one of his antics. Finch covers for Violet, and takes the hit and added scrutiny from his counsellor.
The book begins when Finch has been “awake” for six days. He suffers from bipolar, which isn’t really addressed in the book as he goes undiagnosed. Despite what people think, and the fact that he researches ways to kill himself, he doesn’t want to die. He wants to live.
9 months on from the death of her sister Eleanor, Violet is suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and struggling to return to normal. Her counsellor expects that she should have progressed further by now, but Violet feels guilty about surviving the car crash and has lost all passion for the things she used to love before.
A talented writer, Violet stopped writing on the joint-blog she ran with Eleanor and failed to apply to colleges, and tells teachers she’s still not ready to put much effort into her schoolwork.
When Finch and Violet are paired up for a school project where they have to “wander” their home state of Indiana, it soon becomes clear that they both saved each other.
Violet begins to live a little without feeling guilty for enjoying her life, and discovers that there’s more to Finch that a strange guy who acts out. Finch on the other hand, finds the good in his life.
As you might expect, suicide is a huge theme in the book and it is handled well. As well as exploring Violet and Finch’s mental illnesses and feelings, the book also looks at the way their families deal with it.
Finch’s father is abusive, while his mother seems to play it down and hopes that if she buries her head in the sand, he will get better all on his own.
Violet’s experience is different as the whole family are grieving for Eleanor, though Violet doesn’t want her parents to know just how hard she’s taking it.
They have contrasting experiences and the sad part is that both are realities for some people. There are families who doesn’t understand what people they love are going through and deal with it in different ways, for better or worse.
As mentioned earlier on, Finch’s bipolar isn’t really dealt with in the book, which some readers say is a flaw, but I say it’s realistic. The sad truth is that people go undiagnosed, and people live with families who just don’t understand.
It’s not all sad though. There are some fun and enjoyable parts of the book, especially when they’re exploring their state, and for a moment you feel like you could be reading a soppy contemporary romance. And I guess that’s the point. When you suffer with mental illnesses, there are times where you feel like, for a moment, you are just a normal person, but that doesn’t last.
Violet’s life begins to improve as she rediscovers her creativity and takes baby steps towards living her life again, which is heartwarming and the real positive from the book, which I’m sure many could relate to.
Throughout the whole book you feel like our two main characters are teetering on a fragile knife edge, and you can’t help but feel for them and wish there was something you could do to help them. The emotion pours out of the pages of the book, which makes more sense when you know that Jennifer Niven based the book on personal experiences.
This is one of those books that will keep you up way past your bedtime as you tell yourself you’ll read “just one more chapter”, and before you know it, it’s 2am and you’re turning the last pages, trying not to cry.
All The Bright Places is beautifully written, and perhaps one of the most important books to be released so far this year.
More and more young adult authors are plucking up the courage to write about mental illness, and it needs to be done. Mental illnesses still face stigma, and if realistic books like this can give people even a small insight into what it’s like to live with mental illness, there will be more understanding in the world.
One of the most poignant lines in the book is;
“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.”
And I can’t disagree with it. Because they aren’t something that can be seen, people struggle to empathise, which can make those with mental illnesses feel more alone and weak.
If you want to read a realistic portrayal of living with mental illnesses, then look no further than All The Bright Places.
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