Published by Penguin Australia on January 7, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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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.
Now that I’ve stopped bawling after finishing All the Bright Places, let me tell you about it.
Depression. Mental Illness. Suicide. All of these issues are very real and prevalent, but what it always comes with, is a heavy stigma. Many people who aren’t affected by it, believe that it’s a choice, that the victims aren’t really suffering, that it’s a form of weakness, and that they always had the decision.
The stark reality is, many people suffering from depression and mental illness will never seek help or support because of the stigma attached to it. People need to be informed about the realities of these conditions, and All the Bright Places paints a very real picture of someone suffering from mental illness.
“What if life could be this way? Only the happy parts, none of the terrible, not even the mildly unpleasant. What if we could just cut out the bad and keep the good? This is what I want to do with Violet – give her only the good, keep away the bad, so that good is all we ever have around us.”
From the start of Theo and Violet’s story, we see they are on the verge of suicide for very different reasons. Violet is hurting from her sister’s recent death, and Theo feels like he just doesn’t belong. Although they save each other from jumping, it was Violet who was seen and applauded as a hero while Theo the Freak is further victimised. The reactions of Theo’s peers, teachers and even his family were absolutely heart breaking, as no one wants to address the issue. Their reactions are sadly realistic – instead of offering their support, they react with denial, ignorance, bullying and gossip.
“What were you doing up on that ledge?” – Finch
“The same thing you were. I wanted to see what it was like. I wanted to imagine jumping off. I wanted to leave all the shit behind. But when I did start to imagine it, I didn’t like what it looked like. And then I saw you.” – Violet.
Violet serves as Theo’s bright place, pulling him out of his dark times and giving him happiness to cling onto. I loved seeing the beautiful parts of Theo, his sweet side, his nerdy side, and how intelligent and thoughtful he really was especially when it came to caring for Violet. He isn’t a bad person, just misunderstood and no one really gave him a chance to prove otherwise. Their romance evolved beautifully as they got to know each other, and I was glad to see sex being a part of it, and done so realistically as well.
What All the Bright Places doesn’t do, is gloss over the real issues. We still see Theo suffering through the solitude he seeks, his obsession with death, his moments of being feeling hurt and the displacement of his feelings. We know that all these are still a part of him, not temporary departures from his character. Theo himself makes us understand, through his acceptance of his mood swings and refusing to buy into the labels people love to place on him. Slowly but surely, he lets Violet in to every part of his character, and she still loves every part of him.
“Listen, I’m the freak. I’m the weirdo. I’m the trouble-maker. 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.”
All the Bright Places is one of the most relatable and realistic portrayals of mental illness, depression and suicide I’ve read. It’s incredibly hard hitting and emotional, and I couldn’t stop crying upon finishing the book. To change social stigma, you need acceptance and understanding of the actual issues, and I believe Jennifer Niven’s book is a step towards a more positive change. This is a book that needs to be read, if not for it’s realistic exploration into teenage depression and suicide, then for it’s beautiful story.
My ARC came with bright places sticky notes!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are from an ARC and may have changed at the time of publishing.
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