All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This has been hailed as "The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park" but I fail to see the comparison, other than it's about two teenagers who fall in love. But, the love story is not even central to the story. This book is about mental illness and all its forms - depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, etc. - and the stigma that is placed on those who suffer from these disorders. Most of the characters in this novel are dealing with some issue to varying degrees.
Theodore Finch is the poster child for how mental illness is viewed in today's society. He is clearly a young man who is suffering from an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. I suspected around that halfway mark that he might be bipolar. He is labeled as a freak and shies away from seeking real treatment because being labeled as "bipolar" would simply confirm what others think of him and he refuses to live his life under a label. His family dismisses his erratic behaviors, saying simply, "that's Finch." The whole family is clearly in denial of not only Finch's mental health, but their own.
Violet, on the other hand, is a prime example of grief and the hold that it can have on a person. Finch was a flawed but very likable character. He seemed to lack insight on how to help himself, but he certainly pegged Violet and I enjoyed watching him bring her out of her shell and move through her grief surrounding her sister's death. Both are likable characters. The narrative was highly entertaining and funny at times. I think both Finch and Violet were relatable characters who were easy to connect with.
I think this book approaches a very serious and pervasive issue in an accessible way. Removing the stigma surrounding mental illness is so important. Many people don't seek the treatment they need because they fear being labeled and judged unfairly. As a middle school teacher, I see so many of my students dealing with mental help issues and the fear of others finding out about it. Unfortunately, because of this, too many chose the path that Finch did.
This is a YA novel, but because of its subject matter, I would say it's more Mature YA. In the end, I was left with mixed emotions. I felt incredibly sad but also hopeful. I urge anyone who sees themselves or someone they love in Finch or Violet to know that you are not alone and to seek help.
2016 Reading Challenge: The first book you see in a bookstore
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