The thing I realize is that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.
Theodore Finch is tired of the dark void his life has become. He is stood at the top of his school’s bell-tower, ready to jump and end his incurable pain. One little step and it will all be over and he will be free from the shadows weighing him down. Just as he moves to take that step he hears a noise…
Meet Violet Markey. It’s been nearly a year since her elder sister died in a car accident. A car accident she feels responsible for. Violet cannot handle the grief any longer. Nothing in her life seems to have much purpose anymore and no matter how hard she tries, she cannot move on with her life. Violet decides there is only one solution. One little step and it will all be over and she will be free from the shadows weighing her down. Just as she moves to take that step she hears a noise…
Violet Markey is one of the most popular girls at Bartlett High. Theodore Finch is one of the outsiders. So, after most the school spot them on the bell-tower, Finch decides to alter the story by telling people Violet saved him – but the truth is, they saved each other. From that moment, an unspoken bond is formed and Finch concludes that he must live to save Violet. The two only share one class together, US Geography, and when the class is assigned the task of working in pairs to explore their state, Finch persuades Violet to work with him. He wants to show her the beauty all around her.
Together they begin discovering all the wonders of Indiana. They climb to the state’s highest point, swim into the deepest ‘blue holes’ and visit quaint, mobile bookstores. Inevitably, the two fall in love throughout a beautiful journey of self-discovery on both parts. Violet’s life has purpose again. She now knows that there is beauty left in life. Theodore has taught her to live. However, is that enough to save Theodore? No matter how much he loves Violet, he cannot shake the sadness that is drowning him. Unable to accept who he is or the label ‘bipolar’, Finch tries to tackle his demons alone – sadly, some demons are just to big to face alone.
All the Bright Places is one of the most poignant novels of the decade. It’s exploration of mental health is superb and insightful. It is so important that YAs understand what they are going through, that they are not alone and that seeking professional help could save their life. Niven’s novel provides exactly that whilst raising awareness about the importance of seeking help and support with your mental health. It relays a first-person account of mental health issues, such as depression and bipolar whilst exposing the fact that mental health illnesses are diseases that require medical help. Finch’s first-person account provides a relatable account of what it is like to battle with your own mind.
Niven also provides comfort to those left behind by people who have committed suicide as they too often blame themselves. Violet initially believes that she was not enough for Theodore and that is why he left, that he chose to leave her; a common thought amongst those who have lost their partners to mental health issues. However, as the story develops, Violet realises that there is nothing she could have to done to save him – he had to save himself. It was this discovery that haunted me long after the last page. The harrowing acknowledgement, that loving someone is not always the way to save them, is what provides most the heartbreak. You’ll be left wanting to hold everyone you love and do all you can to make them happy.
Niven’s character and narrative development in this novel is outstanding. The reader can truly understand every emotion Violet and Theodore feel and by the end of the narrative the reader feels like they personally know these characters.
All the Bright Places is a triumph and I highly recommend this novel to YA readers. You’ll be left sobbing and thinking about this book for a long time.