Theodore Finch needs a reason to live. Violet Markey needs a reason to be happy. When they meet unexpectedly at the top of the bell tower, whether they like it or not, their lives are intertwined from then on. Finch, the strange boy that no one understands and few are friends with. Violet, the popular girl who has lots of friends, but few really know. Their relationship is bookended with tension. That sweet spot in the middle, though? There, they both receive a glimpse into a world full of potential, truth, freedom. And joy. The question is: can they hold on to that feeling, and its beautiful promise of a future together, or will they let it go?
I read this book for my own personal pleasure and was not required to write a review. Therefore, all comments and opinions are entirely my own.
I think I should start this review by saying that, while I’ve had conversations with people who have experienced severe depression and/or anxiety and/or suicidal thoughts, I have never experienced these things myself. I have felt some form of depression and anxiety throughout my life as we all do, but never to the point that it completely consumed me and my thoughts for months or years at a time. In reading this novel, I hoped to gain some understanding and a deeper level of sympathy and understanding for those who struggle with these difficult emotions.
To backtrack, I first got introduced to this story by the Netflix film. My sister and I were wanting to watch a chick-flick one afternoon and we were intrigued by the preview for All the Bright Places. We could tell it dealt with anxiety and depression, but we weren’t expecting the heavy theme of suicide to be present as well. To be honest, I was wrecked after watching the movie. I felt mixed emotions, but I left with the feeling that I had to know more—I had to know what the author of the novel was trying to say.
So I borrowed the audiobook from the library the same day and started listening to it. At first, I was hesitant, but by the end, I couldn’t stop listening. For the first time, I heard a narrator choke up—twice!—while reading an audiobook. And let me tell you, it was hard enough trying not to cry while listening to the story develop, and the narrator starting to cry did not help. When I’d finished, it took me a few days to process my thoughts and emotions. And then another few weeks to feel like I could articulate them for this review.
Here we go. First of all, this book is heavy—in everything. I didn’t appreciate the exorbitant amount of language, but the major flaw of this book are the detailed descriptions of different types of suicide Finch contemplates as he researches celebrities’ chosen methods. It makes you feel sick to your stomach, making it hard to listen to (or read), but I also found it to be a very unwise choice. On the off-chance a mentally unstable young person should pick up this book, he/she now knows the options they have available in order to commit suicide. Regardless, I think suicide and its methods should always be dealt with tact in books, regardless of age and mental stability. This is the main reason I’ve struggled to decide which star rating to give this novel.
That aside, I was captivated by Finch and Violet—both their relationship and as individual characters. The contrast between Violet’s involved, caring and sometimes overprotective parents with Finch’s aggressive father and absent mother; Violet’s popularity versus Finch’s notoriety; Violet’s many fake friends versus Finch’s few, but real friends; it was all very striking. But in the end, they were the same: both were depressed—both were struggling to find a reason to live. They clung to each other, waffling between wanting to be the savior or be saved. Yet, they acknowledged that they were both broken, both messy, and that they wanted to fight for their relationship.
Finch showed Violet how to find beauty in the little things. That those beautiful little things are worth living for. And that you can be a bright place for someone else. He gave her hope and reminded her that her life still held meaning. This brought Violet to a place of healing.
In turn, Violet showed Finch what love was. What it felt to be wanted, cared for, missed. She tried to listen and understand him in a way no one had taken the time to for him before. She helped him feel.
It’s difficult to describe my feelings completely without spoiling the ending, so I will just end with this: All the Bright Places brings to light the important concept that even in our darkest time when we struggle to survive, someone else is struggling just as much, if not more, as we are. However, we do not and cannot have control over that other person’s choices. All we can control is whether we or not we are a Bright Place to them.
All the Bright Places taught me so much. It made me feel so much, too. It taught me to look for the ways people may be secretly hurting while also helping me realize that I cannot save people in and of myself. It taught me that life is beautiful not because of the big things, but because of the little things. And the little, bright and beautiful things always outshine the big, dark and terrible things. It also taught me that labels have power. That people are afraid to ask for help and they are afraid of being different. It matters how we talk about mental health, depression, suicide, etc. People are listening. We have to validate their struggles while also helping them understand that death is permanent and not to be taken lightly.
Obviously this book would have had a lot more hope if Jesus was present, because He is the great Healer and Savior. He is the only way that the world can make sense.
Nevertheless, especially after reading the Author’s Note at the end of the book and realizing that Jennifer Niven experienced this story first-hand, I have a lot of respect for her story and her message.
Be a Bright Place for someone. And if you look closely enough, you’ll see that there is always someone who is a Bright Place for you.
I give All the Bright Places 4 out of 5 stars, but with extreme caution to potential readers. I recommend that readers be 18 or older before reading this novel, and only then with the warning of a lot of language, two discreet sexual scenes and thematic material. If you are experiencing anxiety or depression right now, please reach out to a family member or friend and wait to read this book later. Otherwise, be prepared to feel way too many emotions.
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