** Trigger-warning: mental illness, undiagnosed mental illness, bipolar disorder, suicide attempts, survivor’s guilt. **
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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.”
The story is told via alternating point-of-views between the two main characters. In the first chapter of the book, we meet Finch and Violet. Finch is standing on his high school’s bell tower, when he sees Violet. She’s just a few feet away, on the other side of the bell tower. Finch attempts to make small talk, which ends up being one-sided. As the crowd is starting to gather on the ground below, they recognize the would-be jumpers. Violet begins to panic, saying, “Ohmygod” over, and over. Finch slowly helps her get to safety. When they are on the ground, he tells the students and faculty that it was Violet who saved him, not the other way around. He saved her life, and her “social” status. As the book goes on, we learn that Finch is undiagnosed bi-polar, and Violet is suffering from survivor’s guilt. Finch believes everyone, and everything, has a built-in ending. That day was not the built-in ending for them. Despite their shared mental issues, they are almost complete polar opposites. One is looking for a reason to keep living, and the other is looking for a reason to give into death. One is just a “freak”, and the other is a some-what popular.
When the two are “just friends”, it is nice. Each finally has another person who could understand what they’re going through. To me, it gets to a point where they simply depend on one another. They are desperate for each other, though neither would soon admit it. The relationship that develops between Finch and Violet is unhealthy, in my opinion. Finch is stalker-esque, and becomes obsessed with learning more about Violet. He creates a Facebook account, just to talk to her, to look at her pictures, to try and get a glimpse behind the walls she’s built. He practically harasses her, and pushes her into doing things she doesn’t completely want to do. It is creepy, and scary, but it also something that could happen to anyone. When they’re “normal”, I like them together. But when Finch isn’t in a good place, it gets really uncomfortable.
Though other reviewers disagree, I found the characters to be realistic, and well-written. Just because you suffer from X, doesn’t mean someone else can’t suffer from Z. Everyone’s suffering is different, just like Violet’s and Finch’s. The bullies in the book were mean, and very much like the bullies I encountered as an overweight, “weird” teen. They each had their own built-in flaws, just like every day people. Some wore their flaws with pride, while others hide them away. I feel like some of the minor characters could have been a little more prominent, especially Brenda, Charlie, and Kate. There was a lot of potential with those characters. The little where they were in the book was great.
The story was set in a small town, Bartlett, Indiana. (Population: 14,983) It was like any other small town. Nothing much to do, nothing much to see. A place where you’d want to leave as a teenager, just like Violet. In the story, Violet and Finch become partners for their US Geography’s “Wander Indiana” project. They set out to find unusual, unknown, beautiful places to visit before graduation. The setting was well-researched (Jennifer Niven lived in Indiana), and described perfectly.
All the Bright Places destroyed me. (In a good way!) The writing was beautiful, and the characters were interesting. It was great to read another YA book that deals with mental illness/suicide. I really enjoyed reading it, and crying at the end. Jennifer Niven’s voice shines like a diamond in a dirt patch.
If you plan on reading AtBP, have tissues at the ready toward the end, and be prepared to have your heart ripped out. It was heart-breaking, beautiful, and so well written. I’ve had a book-hangover for days, and I just don’t know when I’ll be coming out of it.
If you’re a fan of young adult fiction, or the following authors: Jay Asher, John Green, and Gayle Forman – you should definitely consider giving this book a read.
Favorite quote from All the Bright Places: “You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.”
Have a great day!