Thursday 4 July 2019

#CBR11 Book 34: "All the Bright Places" by Jennifer Niven

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

#CBR11 Bingo: Youths!

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.

This book was basically described as The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park, but it suffers in comparisons to both of those novels, which several years after being published are still among the best of YA novels out there. Neither of the teens in this book battle a terrifying and terminal disease (#Fuck cancer!), nor do either of them have as fraught and depressing a home life as Eleanor in Eleanor & Park. Finch has genuine and very difficult struggles with depression, however, and Violet is trying to process a very deep and genuine grief, missing her vibrant and inspiring older sister, while also battling survivor's guilt (her sister was driving Violet home when they had a car accident. Violet survived, her sister got killed).

Violet isn't really suicidal, Finch occasionally very much is. He keeps researching different ways to kill himself, because when his anxiety and depression really take over, he loses months to the illness and he is finding it harder and harder to find reasons to continue living. No one in school knows the truth about Violet and Finch's meeting at the ledge of the school bell tower. The official story is that Violet persuaded Finch not to jump, no one knows that she was in fact there first, and it was Finch who talked her down (when he arrived to possibly do the same thing she was contemplating). When they are paired up for a school project (Violet has usually been able to get out of any course work in the past year, because of her "special circumstances") and Finch refuses to let Violet get away with half-assing it, they eventually build an unlikely friendship that begins to blossom into something more.

Violet stops counting the days until she graduates and can get away to college. Finch finds he has things to look forward to, and the friendship/romance with Violet keeps the darkness at bay for at least a while. I guess the reason this book has been compared with The Fault in Our Stars is that depression is a ticking time bomb for Finch, the way cancer was for Hazel and Augustus. A lot of people can manage anxiety and depression with the aid of family members, good therapists and medication. Sadly, Finch doesn't really seem to engage much with therapy, has a mother who is entirely unable to handle her son's serious malady and seems deeply sceptical and reluctant to medication. All of that spells danger on the horizon. Without wanting to spoil anything, don't go expecting a happily ever after for the young teens of this book.

This is another of those books that had been on my TBR list for years and years, and it could have fitted on several of the squares of the Book Bingo card. It's not a bad book, but while I felt like the reader got a pretty good insight into what Finch is going through, Violet remained rather bland and anonymous throughout. I get that she was pretty much utterly consumed with grief to begin with, but even as the book develops, it was difficult to see what her interests were or what she really cared about. She stayed too anonymous for me throughout, and therefore I couldn't really seem to care about her or what happened to her.

While this was a good book, it was neither great nor particularly memorable. As I said, I don't think it benefits from being compared to two of the most well-written and emotionally wrenching young adult books in the last decade, because it doesn't hold a candle to either of them. Nevertheless, it's good to see depression and grief dealt with as topics in YA literature - these things need to be destigmatised and seeing them in literature and film makes them less scary concepts.

Judging a Book by its Cover: While this cover might seem a bit generic YA (there was a lot of books with similar covers for a while), the blue background colour and the various post-it notes are actually really on point and relevant to the story

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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