by Jennifer Niven
To be published on January 6, 2015
Summary from Goodreads: 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.Just an FYI: Please tread carefully with this if you are a reader who wants to avoid reading about self-harming/suicidal thoughts and/or behavior.
My take: I started reading this book a couple weeks back and, while I loved the first few chapters (two depressed characters meet cute on a ledge and have a Virginia Woolf quote-off on Facebook) I also began to get the feeling that bad things were looming ahead and I decided to stop reading for a bit.
New year, new mood and I picked the book up again. I finished it, and liked it a lot. But I also had some thoughts and questions. Maybe that was the intent of the book -- that in a situation like this, there are always unanswered questions. I'll tell you what mine were, and also what I loved about the book.
Spoilers are hidden. Sorry there are so many!
One: This is a dual POV book and I especially loved Finch's chapters. He was such a vivid character, and one that I'll remember. Violet was harder for me to get a grasp on, and in fact (highlight for spoiler) except for the fact that I peeked ahead, if you made me guess, I would have predicted that she was the one who kills herself. (end spoiler) Maybe that's a comment on how hard it can be to understand others, but I didn't really feel like I understood Violet. I definitely wanted more information on what happened to her sister. Was that just a random accident that she happened to survive? I was somewhat distracted by my speculation. I suppose you could argue that it's Finch's story, but since Violet has half the chapters, I'd disagree.
Two: This book definitely has a TFioS feel, and on a deeper level than all the like-TFioS-because-they-are-sad books out there. There's the character who falls for the larger-than-life character, the quest (the project that Violet and Finch worked on definitely had the feel of a John Green-style quest to me. I didn't love the beginning of it, which felt a little forced, but (highlight for spoiler) I was very moved by the mini-quest that Finch leaves for Violet after he dies. It doesn't explain why he did what he did when he knew that Violet needed him, but maybe he thought he'd helped her? (end spoiler), the trajectory of the two characters' relationships, and the ending.
Three: The stuff with Finch's family muddied the waters a little for me in terms of Finch's motivations. (highlight for spoiler) Was the book suggesting that Finch's father was also bipolar? Or that his physical abuse was a contributing factor to Finch's suicide? (end spoiler) I was really disturbed by the scene in which Finch's father hits him. Finch didn't live with his father and he and his siblings were old enough that they didn't have to visit their father as far as I could see. And more importantly, since they and their mother obviously know this guy has been repeatedly abusive, why weren't they worried about their stepbrother/half-brother? This distracted me a lot. I wanted to pick up my fictional cell phone and call fictional Child Protective Services and tell someone to keep an eye on that poor kid.
That brings me to the most poignant part of the book, at least for me (yes, another spoiler- sorry!) Finch knows that Violet needs him and that his family (and that poor little kid) might need him and yet he can't bring himself to stay in this world. (end spoiler)
But all in all, I thought that All the Bright Places was a beautifully written book, a book that shows how you can connect with someone on a deep and meaningful level, and yet there can be things about that person that you can never understand. I was completely captivated by Finch's narrative voice and do think that it's fair to market this book as TFioS meets Rainbow and Park, which is not something I'd say lightly.