All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (review copy) - 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. From Goodreads
Sometimes in your life, something will happen that will deeply affect you. Maybe it will be an event, something someone said, someone you meet, or a book you happen to pick up and read. I have been deeply affected by All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin. And I know there are no words I can say that will get across just how incredible this book is.
With the description above, I don't need to summarise the novel, it does it perfectly. All the Bright Places is undeniably one of the most amazing books I have ever read. The first half to two thirds of the book are wonderful; I was inspired to go places and see things, I was inspired to create my own version of The Wall, where Finch pastes all his song ideas, quotes, or anything else that he likes or affects him in some way. It was fun, it was adventurous, it was funny, it was sweet! I fell in love with Finch right along with Violet. He's eccentric and quirky, and yes, he has a mental illness, but when things are good, he is really good! He's this wonderful, beautiful boy, and I was happy to go along for the ride All the Bright Places was taking me on, because I couldn't get enough of Finch.
But when things are bad, they're really bad. As the story goes on, we discover Finch has bipolar, though he doesn't like labels. He talks about his life as stages, when he's Awake and when he's Asleep. When he's Asleep is when things get bad; weeks of darkness. Even though I've read the book, I couldn't fully describe to you what Asleep is like, all I have is Finch's descriptions, and seeing him as he declines, and it's scary. It's terrifying. Watching this wonderful, beautiful boy fraying, coming undone, unravelling. You just want to hold all of him together before he completely comes apart. As the book is told from both Finch and Violet's points of view, we, the readers, know more about Finch's mental state than Violet does, and it leaves me so torn. She doesn't know, she doesn't know he needs help, but at the same time... the signs. I really struggled with Violet towards the end, I really did. But that's because I knew, and she didn't, and what can she do if she doesn't know just how bad it is? Finch is good at hiding. This brilliant boy is suffering, but does all these wonderful things for the grieving, immobile Violet. He brings her back to life as he fades from his own.
All the Bright Places broke me. It ripped my heart out, but in the best possible way. I am fighting back tears as I write, not only because of how heartbreaking this story is, but also because it's loosely based on Niven's own experiences from several years back. There was a Finch, and Niven was Violet. I don't know how much of the real people are in the characters, how many of the experiences they had actually happened, but you can tell from the Author's Note and the Acknowledgements at the end that there are a few things that are true. A boy who wrote a song for a girl who ran an online magazine. Things may not have happened exactly as they did in the book, but there was a boy. And I can't stop thinking about that boy, that real Finch, and it's just so painful. Niven is an incredibly brave, brave woman for writing their story, even fictionalised. I can't even begin to imagine how hard that must have been. But this boy, whoever he was, he lives in the pages of All the Bright Places, and together, Finch and Violet will touch countless lives.
I will never forget this book.
Thank you to Penguin for the review copy.
Published: 8th January 2015
Jeniffer Niven's Website