All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Theodore is a quirky teen whose life has been troubled by sadness. His parents are divorced and Theo's recent past has been marked by dark patches, what he thinks of as a deep sleep, where he zones out from depression and sadness. He finds himself thinking often of suicide. One day, while on the ledge of their school's Bell Tower, Theo comes across Violet. Violet's life has changed drastically since the death of her older sister in a car accident. She's not so sure about life lately, either. So Theo lets everyone at school think Violet "saved" him on that Tower, when it's really him who talks her down. The two form an unlikely friendship and embark on a school project, documenting the "natural wonders" of their home state of Indiana. But do Violet and Finch realize the sadness each is dealing with?
Oh how I wanted to like this book. I'd heard so many good things about it, and it was compared to Eleanor & Park, which I adore. But whereas Eleanor and Park each felt so real, these characters didn't always come across as true, versus caricatures. I did find myself caring, often deeply, for Violet, and I liked Finch, but he changed his personality types so often -- it was hard to relate to his character. I'm glad the book covered the topic of mental illness, but its portrayal was odd sometimes. I almost worry that it glorified mental illness and suicidal thoughts somehow (hard to explain without too many spoilers).
Also, Theo and Violet seem to fall for each other awfully quickly. Why does this happen so often in YA novels? Am I just a jaded adult now (entirely possible)? Also a huge issue - where are the freaking adults in this book, and why don't they help Violet and Finch? Kids and teens shouldn't feel that mental illness is something they need to deal with alone. I also think truly portraying Finch's "deep sleep" and how that affected him could have done wonders for showing the effects and ills of mental illness on teens.
Overall, this book certainly had its lovely moments. Violet and Finch are touching characters in many ways. As I said, I really liked Violet - her character really grows on you. Niven's writing is beautiful at times, and the teens' school project is an interesting touch. This was also hard for me to read, having experienced mental illness and suicide in my family. I think it was worth reading, but it didn't completely live up to my expectations.
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