All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

18460392Wow.  Rarely has a book so enthralled and gutted me.  This is a HARD book to read, but so necessary, and (if you don’t care about that) so beautiful that it makes the hard things worthwhile.  This is a book about teen suicide, about mental illnesses, and the ways in which people react to “acceptable” mental illnesses versus those that make us uncomfortable.

Violet and Finch meet on top of the school clock tower, both of them considering jumping.   Violet’s sister died in a car accident for which Violet feels responsible, and Finch is climbing towards mania with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.  They find understanding, joy, and love with each other, and their romance is really unique and cute and all the things a fictional romance should be.  But that is not the point of this book.

The point is how the rest of the world treat Violet and Finch.  Violet gets passes from teachers, fellow students bend over backwards to regain her friendship, and her parents are willing to slowly love her back to health.  Her depression is understood and therefore “deserved.”  Finch, on the other hand, is tolerated by teachers, bullied by students, and beaten and/or neglected by his parents.  No one knows how to understand his mood swings (and neither does he), so they replace understanding with intolerance.

And even though this is the “theme” of the book and it’s so important, there are so many other beautiful things happening!  I’m from Illinois, and I had the same feelings of “this place is the most boring place on the planet” as Finch and Violet do about Indiana.  So it was so fun to read about them exploring their state and finding magical, silly, and beautiful places to visit and enjoy.

I also really loved all the Deep, Important conversations Finch and Violet have about life, growing up, and struggling.  This is one of the things I love most about YA books – they capture the overwhelming sensation of first realizing life is not fair and trying to find some kind of control over everything.  I loved the scene where Finch and Violet sit in a closet, writing words and phrases on post-it notes, ripping up the ugly words and sticking the good ones to the wall.

Although this is far from a feel-good book, I did finish it feeling hopeful and encouraged.  All the Bright Places went to some REALLY dark places, and I love it for that.  Life is full of darkness, and it is so important to have books like this one that are willing to shine a light on that darkness so that we can understand it better.  Because of that, hopefully, we can make the darkness a little more tolerable for those who are struggling to find the light.  

Book Jacket

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.

Release Date:  January 2016

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