All the Bright Places
Jennifer Niven, 2015
Violet is a senior in high school, popular, but counting down the days until graduation, when she can leave her small Indiana town and escape the pain of her sister’s recent death. Theodore Finch, known by most of his class as “Freak”, is obsessed with death and sometimes misses school for weeks at a time when he stops being “Awake”. The two meet on the top of the school’s bell tower, when Finch – who was debating the pros and cons of suicide by jumping – talks Violet down from the ledge. After the two are paired up on a Geography project, the two find themselves bonding, but can Violet’s friendship be enough to keep Finch “Awake”?
I really liked this book. I thought that both Violet and Finch were incredible well-written characters. I felt that they were believable and that their relationship was something that could have actually happened. I also think that the author did an amazing job in dealing with the issues that each character was facing. Violet’s grief, guilt, and fear after her sister’s death was written in a way that really allowed you to empathize with her. And Finch… Well, Finch was a character that I have never seen the likes of in literature before – at least not written as well.
Which brings me to the bigger point. This is not just a really good book. This is a really “Important” book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where mental illness was described so vividly and honestly. The chapters told from Finch’s point of view gave a really clear picture of what it must feel like to be bipolar, both during the manic phases and the depressive ones. It wasn’t handled in an over-the-top way, but in a way that you could believe. I don’t personally suffer from bipolar disorder, but I can’t imagine a better description of what it must be like. I think that this is a book that all teenagers should read. Finch’s refusal to accept a “label” – whether it be a hurtful one like “Freak” or a possibly helpful one like “Bipolar” – is a real fear that I think that any teenager would feel when presented with this issue. A book like this could help someone who was struggling with any number of issues, especially those dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts.
In the end, this is a really well-written book – not perfect, but very, very good – that deals with a very real issue in an honest way. I highly recommend this to all teenagers, but also to anyone who has ever dealt with grief or depression. And honestly, who hasn’t? This is a book for everyone, but slightly geared toward a teenage audience. Really glad I found this one.