The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.
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.
I read a lot of books, but it’s safe to say that Finch and Violet have resonated with me well beyond most other books I’ve read. Their stories, and their story together is one of heartbreak and sorrow, of living with loss and feeling alone, and finding yourself when you’re with someone else. These two have stuck with me, and I can’t stop thinking about them and about how this book made me feel.
Violet and Finch both suffer from mental illness, although exactly what makes them consider jumping off the bell tower in the first few paragraphs of the book doesn’t become clear until you read further into the story. Violet is dealing with the loss of her sister, and with that, the loss of everything that had meaning in her life. Violet is a writer who cannot write and a former popular girl who can’t see the point of it all. She’s fortunate in that her friends and family are there to support her, even as they deal with their own grief. Finch is a different story; he remains an enigma for most of the story, revealing tiny slivers of his life and his thinking as he goes along, and you begin to realize that he feels – and is, at times – very alone.
It is when they are together that Violet and Finch begin to come alive again. As the pair begin their journey to `explore the wonders – or wanders – of Indiana for a class project, they begin to rediscover themselves. Finch is good for Violet; he challenges her, he annoys her and he pushes her until she begins to feel something. In Finch’s eyes, she is Ultraviolet, and after a time she begins to believe in the version of herself that he professes to love. She, in turn, centres Finch, giving him meaning and focus as he spins wildly out of control. They converse, in person and via text and online, and I challenge anyone who reads their Virginia Woolf quotes conversation not to swoon a little inside. What they say to each other, both in their own words and in the quotes they find to share exposes so much of who they are and what they are feeling to each other, and it wrenches something inside to realize that they have not been able to share this side of themselves with anyone else.
“…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 have around us.” ~ Finch, p. 168
Equally troubling is the realization that they feel that no one would want to hear these thoughts.There is a serious undercurrent here of being disconnected from their respective lives, and as an adult and former teacher, I found that fact broke me a little inside. We constantly try to reach out to our students, but if they truly believe that no one is there for them, then we can never reach them inside, and this book exemplified that frustration. This book reminds us to listen to not just what’s being said, but what is left unsaid. All too often we hear what we want to hear, and it is usually not the whole story.
I’m purposely not saying too much about the plot, except that I will say that Niven is able to allow her characters to evolve and grow in a very natural pattern. We can see where they are heading, but are helpless to do anything about the destination. Niven does an excellent job of keeping the characters true to who they are, including making decisions that will hurt others in the future. While many are marketing this as a TFIOS meets E&P mix, I would venture to say that Niven has made this beautiful, heart breaking story her own.
Mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorders and suicidal thoughts, is on the rise with our youth. The statistics are staggering, and troubling. Writing about youth with mental health issues is equally difficult, and it’s a credit to debut author Jennifer Niven that she has produced such a remarkable and heart wrenching novel. It’s not an easy read, but it’s most definitely a worthwhile read, and if you haven’t put it on your TBR list yet, you need to do so now. It may be early January, but this one will be on my best-of list at the end of 2015.
Important Facts (via the Canadian Mental Health Association)
- It is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide.
- Today, approximately 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth, age 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode.
- The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million.
- Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.
- Mental illness is increasingly threatening the lives of our children; with Canada’s youth suicide rate the third highest in the industrialized world.
- Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15-24 year old Canadians, second only to accidents; 4,000 people die prematurely each year by suicide.
- Schizophrenia is youth’s greatest disabler as it strikes most often in the 16 to 30 year age group, affecting an estimated one person in 100.
- Surpassed only by injuries, mental disorders in youth are ranked as the second highest hospital care expenditure in Canada.
- In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them.
All the Bright Places will be released on January 6th by Knopf, a division of Random House of Canada. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It is available for purchase from your friendly indie bookseller, and other fine book stores in print and in digital format. ISBN: 9780385755887, 400 pages.