All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

"The fact is, I was sick, but not in an easily explained flu kind of way. 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 recognizable disease just to make it simple for me and also for them. Anything would be better than the truth." - Finch, All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Sorry guys, but I’m afraid this one is another tearjerker. I have quickly discovered in doing these book recommendations that I am a sucker for punishment. All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is a tremendously poignant read. It was published early 2015 to critical acclaim, winning the Goodreads Choice Award in young adult fiction. It has recently been announced that it will unsurprisingly hit the big screens next year.

The story has two teenage narrators:

Theodore Finch

Finch feels broken. He is quietly suffering with an undiagnosed mental illness. He has developed a morbid obsession with death. His mind has been made, he wants to die. He makes this startling confession right off the bat on the very first page.

Violet Mackey

After losing her sister in a car crash which she feels partly responsible for, Violet is drowning in grief and guilt. In her small Indiana hometown she is surrounded by sympathy. Although well intended it’s a constant reminder of her loss, rendering her unable to move forward with her life. She’s in desperate need of a fresh start and longs for the day she graduates and can leave it all behind. But can she hold on long enough to see the day?

Not your typical backdrop for a love story, but that’s exactly what ensues. Their first encounter isn’t what you’d call a hallmark moment, but it is definitely momentous. They meet on the ledge of their school bell tower, both with the intent of jumping. However, startled by each other’s presence neither can go through with it. Violet insists that she never planned to kill herself. She tells Finch that she was merely looking for a quiet spot to read, but he knows better. He is intrigued by Violet and instantly wants to know more about her. He may be somewhat of a social pariah but, he is not shy. He boldly volunteers himself as Violet's partner in a project for geography class. The assignment requires the pair to explore their home state and all its wonders. Finch sets a few ground rules before they embark on their endeavor. He insists the pair find locations the old fashioned way: ditching their phones and opting for paper maps. They will take turns in choosing locations and most importantly, once they are done in each location they will leave a little memento behind. This will serve as both a thank you and also proof that they were there.

The pairing of these two characters was unlikely given their contrasting positions on the high school food chain. But popular Violet comes to realise that she much prefers the company of Finch to that of her in-crowd friends. The more time she spends with this boy, the more she feels like her old self again. Unfortunately as things begin to brighten for Violet, they continue to darken for Finch. Not even the love of the girl of his dreams can cure his poisoned mind.

I have to warn you that the last chapter is intense. It leaves you wanting to yell at the book in frustration. It does however touch upon some extremely important issues. I think it had to end the way that it did in order for the story to make the impact it needed. In reading the acknowledgments after I finished, I was even more heartbroken to discover that Niven herself had been affected by the issues she portrayed in her novel. It has become a controversial topic at the moment, but these types of stories simply must be told. I can assure you that nothing is glamorised in this book. It puts a strong emphasis on the importance of communication.

A problem cannot be detected and helped if it remains hidden. Every 40 seconds someone in the world dies by suicide. As if this startling figure isn’t tragic enough in itself, it is accompanied by the cold fact that this means every 40 seconds families and friends of these poor souls are left devastated. At the back of this book they have attached an extensive list of helplines and websites relating to mental health. This is absolutely fantastic. It is an eye-opening read that will certainly stay with you. It definitely left me with mixed emotions but I am glad that I have read it. The more we educate ourselves, inform others, and discuss any topic, the better we understand it and the closer we come to finding a resolution. That is it for this week bibliophiles, sending you all big virtual hugs. I promise next week I shall recommend something happy, until then may your days be filled with peace, love and poetry.

"I'd like to live in a world designed by Theodore Finch." - Violet, All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven