Written by: Jennifer Niven
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: 1/6/15
Review Copy: Kindle edition
In Short: Bold, energetic, and unique Theodore Finch meets fellow high school senior, the quiet and grieving Violet Markey, at the top of the school bell tower when both are seemingly about to fall. Or jump. After they talk each other off the ledge, an unexpected relationship develops, and the book alternates between the two perspectives as Finch tries to teach Violet how to live again, as much for his sake as for hers.
Opinion: I’m done in. That’s all for me – I will now be reading my old Archie comics for the rest of the year. Seriously, though, read this. It’s wonderful.
Brief Summary: Theodore Finch is Awake for the first time in months. On the top of the school bell tower, steps away from a possible plunge, he feels alive. Even as he contemplates how easy it would be to die. Finch soon realizes that there is someone up there with him: a popular girl he barely knows even though they are both in the senior class. He does what he thinks is right and talks her off the ledge. Then, because he is already known for being weird and it won’t hurt his reputation – after all, he hasn’t even been in school for months because he was “sleeping” – he makes it seem as if the girl talked him off the ledge and saved him. The girl, now a hero, is Violet Markey, a former cheerleader who used to have a cute boyfriend and used to love writing. All of that changed nine months earlier, though, when Violet’s older sister/best friend died in a car accident that Violet survived.
Finch quickly becomes fascinated with Violet and pushes his way into her life even as Violet resists. She soon warms to him, though, as they realize they are both emotionally different from many of their classmates. As they tour the “wonders” of Indiana for a class project – one that Finch demanded she work on with him – they realize that their relationship is just as special and unique as the sites they are visiting. Violet starts seeing the beauty in the world for the first time in a long time, and Finch stays Awake for longer than he has in years, even as he fears falling into an abyss, one Violet doesn’t know about, and one where it’s too dark to see anything.
Elaborated Thoughts: I loved this. It has a lot of buzz, and people are comparing it to The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park (apt comparisons, though likely due to the fact that these two books are mentioned in the marketing material). I liked it better than both books. That’s saying a lot, since I’m an enormous Rainbow Rowell fan – I’m pretty sure I bought Attachments for at least three of my friends the month it was released. All the Bright Places is real, powerful, heart-wrenching, and, honestly, plain old entertaining. It is a book that tackles deep issues, but it is not an issue book, and I wasn’t turning the pages because, as seems to be the case with a lot of recent books, a big reveal was kept tantalizingly out of reach. No, in this case, I was turning the pages because I genuinely enjoyed being with the characters and wanted to hear their voices, and I learned things as the characters did. I loved all of the little details, such as “cheating” on quoting books and Violet’s thought process when contemplating creating a web magazine.
Even though, in many ways, this is ultimately the story of Violet living through her grief, it is Finch who is the bright light here. He was a difficult character for me at first, as he hints at depression but has so much energy and passion. I couldn’t relate to this. As the book continued, however, and I realized what was going on with him – although he’s never diagnosed for a variety of reasons, he likely has bipolar disorder – it all started to make sense and it seemed so real. I am a little bit in love with him. It brought to mind the conversation about Manic Pixie Dream Girls a bit, and his character, like Kate Winslet’s magnetic and mercurial Clementine in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, shows the flip side of that. Yes, Finch is a boy, so it’s not exactly the same conversation, but he’s still adorable and super exciting and smart and witty and always racing somewhere and never lags behind and is musical and poetic and well-read and creative and understanding and always up for an adventure and will fall in love with you even when you’re stuck in a place in which you have a hard time loving anything. But, like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, no one can be all of these things all of the time, and Finch isn’t. Violet senses that but doesn’t really understand it for a long time, and even then, she’s unwilling to really admit to herself what it might mean.
I wanted desperately for Finch to be able to look for and accept the help he deserved and to stop trying to stave off his depression on his own. That is hard to do, though, and it’s why a book like this is so important: it allows us to get inside Finch’s mind, to feel what he feels, to understand him and have empathy for him as a full, complete human being, even while acknowledging his illness and wanting to help him. Violet didn’t have that luxury, just as we often don’t have that luxury in real life: we often only see what people want us to see. This book reminds us to look deeper, to try harder, to be better. To remember the bright places in our lives, and to make sure we notice when others are starting to lose sight of their own.