Book Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
All the Bright Places had been on my TBR for a long long time. Finally, I got to it over the lockdown.
Quickly, here’s what it’s about
This is the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theo Finch is the quintessential misfit, the ‘freak’ of the school while Violet Markey is a passionate writer and one of the most popular girls. While Theo has a history of depression, Violet has recently lost her sister in an accident leading her to withdraw into herself.
The two meet on top of the school bell tower teetering at its edge. Finch talks to Violet, persuading her to get down and in the process saves himself too. Later, they are paired off for a geography assignment ‘Wander’ where they have to discover and document the wonders of the state of Indiana. As they journey through the state, slowly, reluctantly (for Violet) they strike up a friendship as they try to heal each other.
What I thought of it
The story unfolds through two perspectives with Finch and Violet taking up the narrative, in turn, giving us a glimpse of both their points of view.
Let me first talk about our two protagonists
Finch is fascinating. We get to know early on that he is battling depression/bipolar disorder. He has many personalities hidden away inside him. There’s this thing he does – every few days he takes on a personality and then he proceeds to talk, walk and act as that person would. That had me intrigued. I do get though, that it might have appeared very confusing to people around him, specially to Violet. Once, in a wave of frustration, she demands which one is his ‘real’ self.
Finch obsesses about suicide, researching is, writing about it, even experimenting with it often, constantly on an edge.
He’s a bit of a bully when it comes to Violet. It annoyed me but it works in her favour because he drags her out of her depression, pulling her along on the path to recovery, slowly but surely.
In stark contrast to Finch, Violet’s character seems rather dull. While he hides way his dark periods under a flamboyant devil-may-care attitude, she is quiet and withdrawn. I couldn’t connect with her character; which is strange because I loved the relationship she shared with her sister and I could empathise with her emotions as she tries to come to terms with the latter’s death. Yet, she lacked the layers and depth that Finch had.
In any case, the more flawed a character the more interesting it is, and Finch has a definite advantage there.
The idea of ‘Wander’
The idea of wandering around your own city or state is charming. I loved the places Theo and Violet discovered. We often take our surroundings, our towns, cities and states for granted. Every young person should try to take up this assignment and rediscover his place of birth, should try to look at it as a tourist would.
Violet has a blog, along with her sister, which she abandons after the latter’s death. As she recovers she decides to launch another web-magazine titled Germ that has everything a young adult might need – from fashion and style to counselling and help for mental issues.
What’s even more fascinating is that the Germ Magazine for young adults really does exist. Taking the idea beyond the book and making it real is fantastic.
Tackling young adult mental health issues
All the Bright Places tackles the issue of mental health among young adults with depth and subtlety. It’s heartbreaking to watch how helpless Finch is in the face of his depression, how desperately he wants to stay ‘awake’. He puts on a cheerful front but he longs to be understood.
“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 easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”
I hated the near-absence of his mom. I get that she had a lot to deal with in her own personal life but I couldn’t wrap my head around the way she left Finch to his own devices, knowing that he had mental health issues. I was so so sorry for him. It made me sad to watch a smart and intelligent boy having to struggle to stay afloat like he did.
On the contrary, Violet has a very clear advantage in how invested her parents are in her well-being, how clued in they are to her every mood, how they celebrate every small sign of recovery. And that is perhaps why she stands a better chance at recovery.
I have to admit I found the end disappointing. It left me feeling angry and frustrated.
The title of the book
I thought a lot about the title and what it meant to convey. This definitely isn’t a ‘Bright’ book. In fact it’s rather morbid. That said, there are some genuinely warm, happy moments and that is perhaps what the title implies: that all of us have some ‘bright places’ even though darkness might lurk around the edges. Or perhaps it implies Violet’s and Theo’s wanderings and the ‘Bright’ places they encounter along the way. I’d love to hear what you thought if you have read this book.
All the Bright Places: The film
Obviously, I had to go and look up the film after I was done with the book. And obviously, I found it wanting. It was too slow for my liking. I did like Justice Smith, who plays Finch, perhaps because of my bias towards that character. As for Violet, she was even more uninspiring than the one in the book.
Last thought: Not the perfect book to read during a lockdown but if mental health issues intrigue you, you’ll like this one.