WARNING: This review contains spoilers and references to suicide and mental illness
It’s Sunday and that means its review day! Today’s review is on All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (currently being made into a film starring Justice Smith and Elle Fanning!) I actually read this book a few months ago but never got around to posting my review but better late than never! Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be the most cheery of reviews as this book deals with some serious topics. If you didn’t notice the warning above, this review will contain references to suicide and mental illness so please bare this in mind before reading.
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 have wanted to read this book for so long and after constantly picking it up and putting it down in every bookshop I went in, I finally purchased it mid supermarket shop in Asda of all places. I started reading it as soon as I got home, and I couldn’t put it down. I did want to do this review without spoilers, but I couldn’t find a way to do this book justice without mentioning specifics.
Jennifer Niven sums up All the Bright Places best with the line included on the front cover of the book. It is ‘the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die’. It is an opposites-attract love story that paves the way for important conversation about mental health and its effects, specifically in young people.
I really loved the dual narrative Niven used throughout the book. I’ve always loved this approach to writing as I think it adds something to the book to hear the story from different characters perspectives. It was particularly effective in this book as it allowed us to see how mental illness affects people in different ways. Finch and Violet are both struggling with mental health issues and they both find themselves on top of the school’s bell tower contemplating their lives. This event changes both of their lives but not always for the better.
In Violet’s narrative, we see her mental health slowly start to improve. She has Finch to talk to, someone to listen and to care and understand which is essential in her making it out of that dark place. Finch on the other hand still seems to sink further and further into himself and his illness because he is unable to talk about it which ultimately results in his tragic suicide. The dual narrative allows the reader to actually feel Finch’s absence through the silencing of his voice after he takes his own life, we only hear Violet’s voice and this leaves a powerful impression on the reader.
I also liked the way that Niven used a lot of common tropes that are often found in YA fiction but in an extremely clever way that allowed her to comment on the effects of mental illness. The popular girl falls for an unpopular boy is a well known and arguably tired plot line that is so frequently used that it had me rolling my eyes when I first started reading but I was definitely too quick to judge. Niven doesn’t use this to sell the love story, she’s using it to show how anyone can be affected by mental illness. Violet is loved by everyone and Finch is the outcast, yet both are struggling.
There is also the trope of the ‘mean girl’ Amanda that Niven powerfully turns on its head when Finch goes to a suicide support group after attempting to take his life and sees Amanda there. I loved this for 2 reasons, the first being it shows that everyone has their own cross to bare and the second being that it shows the other side of mental illness. Amanda has survived. She struggled like Finch and Violet and she has made it through like Violet does. This was really important for me in the book, I think it definitely needed that hope and light at the end of the tunnel.
“The thing I realise is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”
I think the best thing that this book does overall is not to show suicide as a selfish or cowardly thing to do. Niven really shows how much Finch is struggling. She writes about it so powerfully that you can understand the reason why he wanted to take his own life. There is little done to help Finch by the adults around him including those at school. He doesn’t get the help and the support that he desperately needs and so his illness becomes too much for him to deal with which is sadly what happens to a lot of people who take their own lives. There is just not the resources and support to help people, especially young people who are often disregarded as being hormonal or just moody. This is where this book really resonated with me.
I think it’s extremely important that so many YA authors are tackling the issue of mental health in their novels. In the UK, approximately 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year with statistics suggesting that 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24*. The more this is recognised, and the more action is taken to provide the resources and support that is so desperately needed for people of all ages and genders, the more that people like Finch won’t think that suicide is their only way out of their illness.
Thanks for reading! Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!
If you have been affected by anything I have mentioned in my review, then please check out the following links for support: