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Theodore Finch is obsessed with death. There are so many different ways a person can die, but which one will finally take him? He sees a school therapist, but it is easy to hide behind a fake smile and dark humor. He acts out in unexpected ways to keep people at arm's length and stays trapped in his mind for too many hours of the day. Until he crosses paths with Violet Markey on the ledge of the school tower. While he may have been considered jumping, he can’t stand to see her do the same.
Violet Markey is a survivor. But being a survivor is not something to celebrate when you blame yourself for your sister’s car driving off the road. Burdened with guilt, Violet is slowly withdrawing from the world. Backing away for her friends, family, and things that once brought her joy. She finds herself on top of the school tower, not fully committed to jumping but not entirely sure she wants to keep living. Until Finch talks her down from the ledge and opens the door to a new possibility.
All the Bright Places is a book that broke me. It took well over a week for me to begin writing this review, because of how emotionally connected I felt to the characters. Jennifer Niven has crafted a novel that is so beautiful and yet so tragic at the same time. The emotional weight tied to these characters and their story lingered long after I finished the book. Even creating the quote art for this novel almost brought me to tears.
Finch is the main target of the popular kids because he is different. He acts out, dresses differently, and doesn’t act like the other students. He has a rough home life and is suffering from mental illness. The stigma that comes from carrying an invisible illness is touched on with this narrative and it hits close to home. Readers will see how damaging it can be for peers to throw harsh words and bully Finch as he struggles against his own mind. There are moments where he is so strong, fighting against the encroaching darkness and dread that threatens to suffocate him, but without a strong support system, he falls over and over again. Until Violet enters his life. She is finally the one spark in his life that gives him hope.
Violet’s story, while tragic, also shows how different people can be treated based on their backgrounds. She’s a popular girl in school, has good grades, and has a loving family at home. Even her counselor talks to her differently than Finch’s. However, Violet suffers from survivor's guilt and is beginning to isolate herself. Her friends don’t recognize it for what it is, but Finch sees it. Having lived with his share of mental problems, he begins to integrate himself into Violet’s life. Once they become partners for a school project, Violet can’t help but socialize with him. And in the end, it changes both their lives.
As Finch and Violet begin their journey together, they slowly reveal to one another how broken they are. There is a mutual understanding that begins to take hold, and Violet begins to see why Finch has such a hard time dealing with his mental illness. The utter hope and need to do better Finch feels is heart wrenching as his destructive thoughts continue to pile into his head. I wanted to scream at his parents to open their eyes, to help their son. To stop being so caught up in their distant worlds and recognize how much he suffered. Violet saw it and did everything she could to help him. Through Finch, she learned how to fight for herself no matter how hard life became.
The relationship they fostered was messy and complex. It was slow to develop and realistic. While Violet would never have considered befriending Finch in the past, the way life through them together forced her to open her eyes at her own bias. And the always distant Finch fought to become a better person for Violet. This story is heart wrenching in its intricate and emotional writing style. Jennifer Niven has done such a brilliant portrayal of these characters and the separate battles they each fight. This book is one I think everyone should read.
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