All the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven
Genre: fiction, contemporary, YA, romance, mental health
Awards: Goodreads Choice Awards for Young Adult Fiction 2015
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.
Review with spoilers
This book was amazing, but I wish the ending would be more fleshed out. That’s one of my major issues with the book, otherwise it is a very compelling story about the impact of mental illness or just plain psychological trauma on teens.
Both major characters, Theo and Violet, are dealing with their issues in different ways. Violet has more chances of healing simply because Theo rejects counselling and the diagnosis. The difference in their support structures as well shows us just how powerful our family and friends are on our way towards healing. No coddling but no neglect either is the best option.
“Listen, I’m the freak. I’m the weirdo. I’m the troublemaker. I start fights. I let people down. Don’t make Finch mad, whatever you do. Oh, there he goes again, in one of his moods. Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.”
I like their love story, but I knew at the half way point of the book that it would not end well, especially when Theo began his downward spiral again. It is just heartbreaking because the people in his life don’t do more. His parent in particular are such two-faced arseholes. Really, an alcoholic mother so deep in denial and emotional hurt she can’t see her own son in front of her, doesn’t even know he repainted his room or anything, then has the guts to send a fragile teenager to find out if her son killed himself or no. WTF?! His father doesn’t deserve a word mentioned about him. Period. That said, I was crying for the last part of the book – I just couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks.
This story is a good way to open a discussion about mental health in schools, or just give teens an awareness of these issues. I hoped to see more healing, but perhaps that is a topic of another book. But the truth about bullying is that it can be highly damaging and that is not pointed out here enough. It is shown but not shoved in your face, so maybe some will gloss over it and be more centred on the love story.
“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.”
I know from personal experience just how damaging being bullied can be. It took me a long time to come to grips with the utter failure of the teaching staff to intervene. I had no idea the wound kept bleeding for years after I stopped the bully by finally getting over my good manners and giving back as good as I got; and believe me, you don’t want to push me into a corner verbally or physically because I go berserk due to those years of abuse if you get me on a bad day.
What I’m trying to say – if you’re bullied and it doesn’t stop, or the adults are incompetent morons that will tell you the guy loves you and torments you because of his deep abiding love when you know:
- a.) bullying is not love,
- b.) he’s as gay as it can get,
- c.) he’s got fellow classmates intimidated as well, so they’ll join him with his bullying, or
- d.) it’s you who’s the problem in the teacher’s eyes and not the bully,
learn a few truthful but hurtful lines about the person bullying you, and prepare to spit, claw, or punch them, doing all of these things when they least expect it. In front of an audience, of course. This may shock them silly and you always have the option to run away or get support from his other victims. If the gentle way doesn’t work – go for the hard one. Maybe then you’ll be heard and your voice respected. And please, don’t get pressured to say you forgive them – it is your damn right to choose how you feel or if forgiveness for the years of shit you had to swallow is even on the table. *mic drop*
Sorry for the rant but this topic is personal for me. I just can’t stand this bull, especially from adults who should have known better (and they knew, oh they knew). So the story is also frustrating for me in the utter failure to give teens counselling or following through when Theo isn’t at school once again. Missing school time is a red flag and any decent adult in the teaching profession starts asking some hard questions at that point especially beacuse of other red flags Theo exhibits.
The amount of manipulation Theo could do when adults only left voice-mail messages for his parents is staggering. His siblings did little to get him the help he needed as well. So in the end it was only Violet and her parents who cared and they were the ones hit the most by his death. The crocodile tears of his family were just infuriating. all said and done, it was Theo who decided his own fate – he had so many ways to escape the town and find true healing, but he chose to end his life rather than persevere. It is understandable but so frustrating. The suicide rates for teens and males in particular are very high and not enough is done to adress this issue. I hope this book opens constuctive dialogues that will result in some policy changes and a better programmes to prevent similar events like the one in this book.
“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.”