Review | All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: January 8, 2015
Page count: 400
Genre: Contemporary 
Age bracket: Young Adult
Source: Purchased Paperback

The story of a girl who
learns to live from
a boy who wants to die.

From Goodreads:
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.
~ • ~

Set in the town of Bartlett, Indiana, All the Bright Places follows Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two highschool students who form an unlikely friendship in the unlikeliest of places.
Finch is an outcast and deemed a "freak"; he has a morbid fascination with death and thinking up all the possible ways in which he could end his own life. Violet is a California girl who feels trapped in this small Indiana town. Before, Violet was a cheerleader, a writer, and an all-round popular girl. But now, after her sister's death, Violet has strayed away from her friends and hobbies, and counts down the days until graduation, when she can finally attend university as far away as she wishes and leave all the bad memories associated with Bartlett behind. When Finch and Violet meet one morning on the school's bell tower, both contemplating jumping and ending it all, it's uncertain who actually saves who.

Paired up for a geography assignment, the two wander Indiana together, visiting the state's highlights and landmarks, and, over time, Theodore discovers what it's like to have a true, close friend, and Violet learns to live again.

Unfortunately, All the Bright Places didn't live up to my expectations. I wouldn't say my expectations were extremely high, however, but I just felt there was something lacking; for me, it was missing a spark. There is just so much hype surrounding this book but I myself just couldn't get a grasp on why other people are loving it so much.
All the Bright Places is being labeled as a mix of The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park which, in my opinion, leaves this book with very big boots to fill. I didn't make comparisons to those two books while reading but now, looking back on it, I don't think there's too much in common other than quirky outcast teens fighting to keep their relationship alive. However, when I think of those two books, I think of a story that brings on all of the feelings and, as was my experience with TFioS, tears you apart completely. Strangely enough, I didn't feel an onslaught of any emotions while reading All the Bright Places; it's a story that should provoke emotions but, to me, it just felt bland. If I were to compare, I'd say it's more along the lines of Let's Get Lost and Looking for Alaska. I feel this didn't particularly offer anything groundbreaking or new other than its more severe take on mental illness - which, honestly, I don't think it handles in the best of ways.

All the Bright Places centres around the very serious subject matters of suicide and depression which, most of the way through the book, seem to be painted as a light and cute picture instead of what they really are. In this book, it's like suicidal thoughts are something "quirky" to have.
I really don't think this is the best of books for young, impressionable teenagers. 
I can't recall at any point thinking "this is going to be helpful to someone who's feeling down and needs a boost - a reminder that everything can turn out okay" or "this is so enlightening". To me, it really came across as pushing the message that you're better off hiding your problems, that adults are not going to take your issues seriously, and that seeking professional, medical help is a waste of time. Basically, you're eff-ing doomed if you're in Niven's book.
As the story progresses, when the light and cute comes to an end, you finally see the tragic downward spiral into mental illness in full-force. I found this part of the story true to life - that everything is peachy and then suddenly it's not, but I just wish that Finch's issues could've been written more seriously in the first three-quarters of the book rather than as quirky personality traits that young girls are likely to fawn over.

Other than that, I can't say I thoroughly enjoyed the story - bleak subject matter or not.
I didn't feel much of a connection to Finch. At the beginning, he really infuriated me; he comes across as one of those boys who won't take "no" for an answer when girls show no interest. He turns up at Violet's house at nighttime without waiting for a proper "yes" before they properly know each other 
(how did he know where she lives, by the way?), and then there he is one morning, eating breakfast with Violet's parents when she wakes up, without any prior arrangement. He doesn't seem to have any understanding of boundaries. You're going to have some impressionable 12 year olds (yes, I checked; 12 years old is Penguin's recommended starting age for AtBP) thinking of Finch's oftentimes manipulative behaviour as something romantic and acceptable. NOT GOOD.
I found Violet's character more relatable than Finch, but still .. at times, she felt quite one-dimensional, dull, and didn't have an awful lot of substance to her.

Niven states in the Author's Notes that she herself has experienced the loss of a loved one - honestly, this surprised me as the topic was written in such a pretentious,
 unsympathetic way. I think that when you're writing about a subject as touchy as this, more so when it's aimed at young people, you need to be extremely careful as when they love your book to that degree they may very well take your written word as fact -I know, I've was one of those teenagers myself. This story, however, doesn't provide any semblance of hope for those battling mental problems, neither does it give the feeling that there's always light at the end of the tunnel even in the darkest of times, or even an enlightening view or understanding of the struggle of mental illnesses. The only sort of weird take on positivity it gives is that the people a person who commits suicide leaves behind can move on and learn from that experience. Yes, true, people learn to move on over time - but you kind of don't want to be encouraging the fact that a possible teenage suicide will be a wonderful learning and life experience for others. I felt like Finch was simply a character used for nothing more than, eventually, sending Violet on the right path - when his own story was needlessly tragic and romanticised.
Christ almighty, what was this woman thinking.
I don't know what Niven was hoping to achieve when writing this book, but if her goal was for it to be a complete downer of a book - she succeeded.

I'm giving it a standard three-hearts rating as I can't say I liked nor horrendously disliked it. My issues are all with the poor handling of mental illness and the it's okay for Finch to do that because he's mentally ill character manipulation. I have no qualm with Niven's actual quality of writing, her writing itself is fine - it's how she executed the story that's the problem.

I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257-foot bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you're standing next to the right person.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't get far enough into the book to see some of these issues, but I can believe it based on what I did read. I ended up giving this one to a friend of mine because it just a felt off to me. I only read a few chapters, but in those chapters, Finch's obsession with suicide just being his quirky thing was a bit infuriating. The same with the guidance counselors being completely unhelpful. It's not sending the message that I think is important: seek help.


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