“All the bright places” by Jennifer Niven

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asteriaiconAll The Bright Places is a young adult novel that is told through the eyes of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Both are students at the same high school, her being part of the popular crowd, him much less popular, and frequently called “Freak” in the halls by the athletic students. One day both of the characters find themselves on top of the bell tower at school looking down, each contemplating suicide, where one talks the other one down. They get grouped together for school project to find the natural wonders their state has to offer, and the pair form an unlikely bond.

Violet is suffering from PTSD, dealing with survivor’s guilt and depression. She can’t seem to find herself after an accident that injured her and claimed the life of her sister. Nothing seems important anymore, she has no interest in former activities, and doesn’t really socialize with friends anymore. She sees no future for herself. Her parents try to help and encourage her into counseling.

Finch is a very troubled character who comes from a broken home. His mother is totally checked out and has no interest in his life, his dad is physically and verbally abusive, and his sister is the only one who seems to care about him, covering for him when he misses school.  He constantly thinks of death, asking himself “is this a good day to die”, states death and suicide statistics, and even counts how many days until he thinks he plans to die. His family doesn’t seem to notice him or his problems.  To his family “there’s no such thing as being sick unless you can measure it with a thermometer under the tongue”.

There are no words to describe how much I loved this book. In fact, in preparation for this review, all I wanted to do was reread the book and feel the feels all over again! I have always liked young adult books because they seem to tackle the most difficult of topics and write them in a way that adult books just can’t seem to. They seem to be more relevant, stronger, and have a bigger impact. If you liked “The Fault In Our Stars”, this is right up your alley. From what I have read online the rights have also been picked up for a movie.

The book is a fabulous look at mental health issues, and how people with depression may think. Both characters go to counseling, but both lie in sessions,  her because she is afraid the counselor will tell her parents what she says and she doesn’t want to worry them, and him because he just tells the counselor what he thinks he wants to hear. They both hide their problems from their family and the counselors, rather than asking and accepting the help that ultimately could have helped both of them in the end. “It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them”.

A key message I picked up on was when Violet’s family find out that she has been hanging around Finch, even for a school project, they immediately reject the idea of her being anywhere near him. They have heard stories about him and are fearful of his influence or what he might do to her. To me this speaks directly to the stigma people with mental health face every day.  I think not asking for help and afraid of what would be said to their parents also goes along with the stigma aspect of the novel. People are afraid of what will happen if they ask for help, some even fear they will not be believed, or fear how they will be treated once they come forward with mental health problems. “Labels like ‘bipolar’ say ‘This is why you are the way you are’. They explain people away as illness”.

I can’t deny it, the ending had me full on ugly girl crying. It was so sad and wonderfully done. I loved watching Finch’s influence on Violet, and helping her understand and even overcome her problems. I loved watching her fall for Finch and my favorite line from the book was “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re already involved Finch. And in case you haven’t noticed, I’m broken too”. They formed an unlikely bond over having mental health issues, which I think is wonderful, since so often people shy away from those suffering from these types of problems, rather than befriend and help them. My heart ached for Finch, suffering so much in silence, and watching him spiral further and further down into the depths of depression. I know all too well how much depression lies to you, and how much that inner voice can hurt and bring you down.

At any rate, if you or someone you know has ever or is suffering from depression, PTSD, is bipolar, etc., help them. It could be as simple as offering to be there if they need to talk, and actually being there if they do come to you to discuss their problems. Don’t be afraid of them; don’t encourage the stigma that they already feel daily. If they are threatening suicide, call authorities to get them some help. At the end of the novel there are numbers you can call to get help, either for you or yourself, though they are American. Canada does however have similar programs. And ultimately, be nice to people. You have no idea the impact your words may have on someone, both good and bad. You have no idea what kind of battle they are fighting internally every single day.

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