By: Máire Hannigan
A tragic tale of love, All the Bright Places, written by Jennifer Niven, is a truly powerful story.
Seventeen-year-old Theodore Finch, from Bartlett Indiana, introduces us to this compelling story. Tall, dark haired, and an outcast, Finch finds himself caught between two phases: the Awake and Asleep. When we meet Finch, he is standing at the ledge of a bell tower. Little does he know, he’s not the only one contemplating the jump. Here, we also have Violet Markey. She is seventeen, and counting down the days till her high school diploma is in her hands, and she’s rid of the past that haunts her everyday. As she is standing on the ledge of her school’s bell tower, she is terrified, and then, she meets Finch. Finch is a young man trapped in the cycle of a never ending internal battle against himself, and the labels society has forced on him. Violet, dealing with the death of her older sister, struggles to find where she fits into her old life, before the accident. Finch, despite his own inability to find his balance, teaches Violet how to live fully as he plunges deeper into the pool of darkness that is his own downfall. The story of their wanderings that unfold before the eyes of the reader is truly remarkable. Throughout the novel, Finch opens up Violet’s world and reintroduces her to herself and who she has the potential to become. He shows her how to live while he slowly loses sight of his own will to find the path out of his personal darkness. It’s a heartbreaking love story that gives an inside look on the reality of mental illness, how that illness affects the way the person feels about themselves and others and the tragic truth of the stigma surrounding mental illness. From a young age, Finch was labeled and cast aside as if he was worthless, and eventually he started to believe it.
The way in which Niven was able to vividly capture a clear picture of not only the mind of a teenage boy, but the mind of a teenage boy struggling with mental illness was impeccable. The lack of support from his friends and family, and their inability to take his behavior seriously was astounding. It was an enriching novel that revealed not only what mental illness is really like, but also the reality of how important it is to pay attention. It’s a young adult novel that I believe anyone of any age ought to pick up and learn from. Although it was a slow start, the story of Violet and Finch opened my eyes to the bigger picture: every single person is struggling. We all have our shadows, so start paying attention. The inner workings of Finch’s mind, how it could go from one end of the emotional spectrum to the next, reveals how inconceivable mental illness is. Violet’s battle with loss, the loss of her sister, the loss of her sense of self, and the loss of meaning, lead her to Finch, and ultimately, their wanderings help guide her home. Finch and Violet, two young people from vastly different walks of life, are both being weighed down by their own demons, remind our readers that strangers aren’t so different from each other. Things like mental health are not things to take lightly and whether or not you relate to the struggles of our main characters, there’s no doubt you understand what it’s like to feel alone or lost in a crowd. Rating: 4/5.