Friday, April 3, 2015

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places
By Jennifer Niven

Genre:  Young Adult
Published:  1/6/15 by Random House
Pages:  400
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The book summary for All the Bright Places begins with "The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park..."   I'm always annoyed when new books are compared to books that I loved, because I think it sets up unfair expectations for the new book.  However, in this case, I'd say that a cross between those books is a fair comparison.  All The Bright Places does have a lot in common with the plots of Fault in our Stars and Eleanor and Park (and a little bit of Papertowns by John Green too), and it is written with the same wit and sharp dialogue found in the writing of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.  Like Eleanor and Park, Finch and Violet don't quite fit in with the rest of the kids at their school.  Like Gus and Hazel, Finch and Violet both are plagued by a similar affliction.  In The Fault in our Stars it is cancer; in All the Bright Places it is mental illness/suicide.

There are definitely similarities between these stories, but even though it may not be wholly original, I still loved the story found in All the Bright Places.  I read the entire book in almost one setting, even with a horrible migraine.  I could barely keep my eyes open but I did not want to stop until the story was over.  Jennifer Niven said in the notes at the end of the book that she wanted to write a story that was edgy, tough and sad but still funny.  And I think she succeeded.  She also said that this story was based on an experience she had in real life, which I think makes it more touching and real.

The story begins when Finch and Violet first meet.  Both are standing on the ledge of the school bell tower, and both are considering whether or not to jump and end their life.  Finch talks Violet off the ledge (literally) spouting off witty, sharp dialogue that is unexpected given the seriousness of the situation.  Immediately it had my attention.  I am such a sucker for fun, smart dialogue.  Even if teens don't talk this way in real life, I just love reading about them in fiction.  (Reason #1 why I am such a big John Green fan).  I've read other reviews (of both this novel and John Green) that call this pretentious, but I find it fun to read.

Violet is grieving over the death of her sister, feeling responsible for her sister's death and unable to move on with life.  Finch is forever an outcast, plagued by mood swings that range from high to low and obsessed with death and the possibility of taking his own life.  When these two meet, Violet finds a reason for living again while Finch continues to struggle.

I feel like maybe I should include a spoiler alert for the rest of this review.   Although I think it is pretty obvious what is going to happen just from reading the summary on the back cover of this book.  So I'm not sure that I am really spoiling anything that anyone doesn't already know, but if you want to go into this story blind, then stop reading now!

I was not sure what to think about Finch at first.  He is a bit over the top and all over the place.  However, as the story progressed, I grew more sympathetic towards him.  And by the end, I wanted to scream, "Why doesn't someone help this kid??!!"  It was frustrating to read about the people in Finch's life who seemed either ignorant or unwilling to help him...his family, his guidance counselor, even Violet. But at the same time, I think it's probably realistic too.  For many people, especially family, it is probably easier to ignore the problem and just hope it goes away than to deal with it head on.  I felt like the guidance counselor was more interested in protecting himself legally than in truly helping Finn.  In the case of Violet, she is a 17 year old girl with problems of her own and also "in love" with a confusing boy.  It makes sense that she wasn't fully able to understand the seriousness of what was going on with Finn.

While sad and hard to read, Finn's struggle was intriguing to me.  His attempts to stay "here", his refusal to seek help or be labelled, his continued thoughts of death even after meeting Violet, who made him so happy.  I appreciated seeing things from his perspective even though I was so very sad for him and the loneliness of his struggle.  I wanted Violet to be able to "fix" him but his struggles here were far deeper than the ability to be solved by simply falling in love with a girl.

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