By Heather A.
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
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.
If I were to travel back to high school to read this book, I think I would have appreciated it on a deeper level. Or I would have avoided it out of fear of the subject matter. I don’t take depression or suicide lightly and I find that books with these subjects romanticize them a lot. That’s what the first part of this book felt like. Finch was a manic pixie dream boy and Violet was just some girl who makes rash decisions. But the more that is uncovered about each of them, the more I realized that this was not the case. The author’s note at the end makes it clear that she’s dealt with this subject in the past, along with grief and loss, that I felt better about reading the book. All the Bright Places exists because of the contemporary YA book bonanza, but it is carving it’s own corner in the subject of mental illness.
Finch reminded me of the “bad boy” from breakfast club, Bender, who hides his struggles behind bad behavior and a need for attention. In that fashion, I imagined Violet as Claire, the girl who is popular and has everything going for her. In high school, it is always easy to put up a front to seem normal, especially when things are going to shit (or you might feel that they are). Finch’s story of asleep and awake really struck me, how many people might feel the same way, to varying degrees? Was Finch ever going to be able to find the help that he needed? The way the narrative was framed, he didn’t think he needed any medial help at all. Finch acknowledged that he was broken, but he didn’t think there was any way to “fix” him.
I’m glad Violet had a plan after high school. Throughout the novel I was worried she might stagnate after the loss of her sister, but I’m glad there was a path for her to follow. And I’m glad that Finch helped her get there. I was reminded of the “It Gets Better” movement, which is so important in recognizing that you are in control of your life. Violet is put in these extenuating circumstances of grief, but eventually she’s able to move forward: writing, going to college, becoming friends with new people.
I’m just glad this book exists to talk about these issues and bring them more attention. Mental illness is not something to be taken lightly.