‘Is today a good day to die?
This is something I ask myself in the morning when I wake up. In third period when I’m trying to keep my eyes open while Mr. Schroeder drones on and on. At the supper table as I’m passing the green beans.’
This is another one of those super-hyped books that it has taken me forever to get round to reading, and whilst I did enjoy it, I do feel like it didn’t quite meet my expectations.
All The Bright Places tells the story of two high school students, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, who are both in pretty bad places. Violet is devastated by her older sister’s death the year before, and is finding it hard to get on with her life, whilst Finch battles with his mental health issues and struggles with a neglectful, dysfunctional family. This culminates in their meeting on the ledge of the high school bell tower and the start of an intense relationship. But can the two save each other?
First things first, I think it’s great that a book that tackles mental health has become so incredibly popular. Mental health is such an important issue, and unfortunately one that is commonly stigmatised, so it’s great that so many people are reading a book that highlights the struggles some people have to go through on a daily basis. I love when books get people talking about tough issues, so in that way I have a huge appreciation for this book. However, I’m not really sure the cutesy quirkiness of this novel really worked for me…
I’m not saying any book about mental health should be all doom and gloom, but casting the principle characters as quirky, literary quoting, slightly pretentious people seemed to in a way…glamourise it maybe? Although Finch was intriguing and dynamic, and Violet seemed quite relatable, in a lot of ways neither of them seemed to me like real people, more like vehicles for their individual issues and I couldn’t really imagine them separated from them.
I also feel like this book suffered from the same thing a lot of John Green books do (as much as I adore John Green’s novels!) where everything the characters say is super meaningful and deep, which waters down the moments in the novel which require things to be meaningful and deep.
I also found the reactions of a lot of the adults in this novel to the central characters problems to be kind of odd. It was well known round school that Finch was on the ledge of the bell tower on that first day, yet all that happens is he has a bit of a chat with one of the counsellors? In real life surely an obvious attempt at suicide would be taken more seriously? His parents of course didn’t seem to care, but I think that was part of the point of them – they were not supposed to be good parents.
The familial relationships in this book were something I did actually really like, and seemed quite realistic. Finch’s mother comes across as quite selfish and neglectful, leaving the running of the house to her eldest daughter Kate who seems to be someone who has had to grow up fast. Meanwhile his abusive father, who has left the family, is setting up home with his new wife and her son and the bad feeling this creates between him and his own children seemed pretty realistic. Violet’s parents, on the other hand, are struggling to get over the death of their eldest daughter Eleanor, and understandably become very overly protective towards their other daughter as a result. This causes rifts between them throughout the novel as Violet goes off a lot with Finch, yet ultimately they support her throughout, and I really liked them as characters.
I also liked some of the secondary characters from school. Violet’s friends, the popular crowd, for example seemed pretty superficial and stereotypical ‘popular’ people at first, so I liked how they were developed throughout the novel and it became clear they had their own issues to contend with. It seemed to promote the idea that everyone has something, and that’s something I personally truly believe – there are no ‘normal’ people. I also liked Finch’s friends Brenda and Charlie, and I particularly liked how they grow to be Violet’s friends throughout the novel.
I also found that, despite my issues with the main characters, there was a huge amount of emotion packed into this novel, particularly at the end. I had heard a lot about the ending of this novel and how heartbreaking it was before I had read the book, and in this way it did meet expectations. Although I couldn’t connect with Finch or Violet quite as much as I would have liked, the way things turn out in the end was incredibly emotive, and really makes you think about the issues covered in the book. I think everyone at least knows someone who has been affected by depression, bipolar or suicide if they haven’t been themselves, and it really hits hard. In a way the ending is incredibly bleak, and you feel hopelessly sorry for Violet, but at the same time there seems to be a glimmer of hope.
Overall, I had pretty mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand I applaud what Jennifer Niven has done with this book by raising an issue that many YA authors shy away from – depression, mental health and suicide – especially as from the Author’s Note at the end it seems like she is writing from personal experience. The book was beautifully written, and perhaps this was part of my problem: a lot of the dialogue was so flowery and deep it just didn’t ring true, and it was really hard to buy into the central characters’ forced quirkiness. I also found it to be fairly slow going for most of the book, and it took me a surprisingly long time to get through what is quite a short book.
Of course, the main problem I had with this book could also have been all the hype surrounding it. I often find with books like this where I hear so much about it prior to reading it that it doesn’t live up to my expectations, and I feel like that’s what happened here. I still think it’s definitely worth a read though, as it’s by no means a terrible book, and the ending was incredibly emotive. So many people seem to love this book and really connect with it, so it could just be me!