There are some books that stay with you forever. Some books that you recommend everyone you know to read. Some books that deserve to be read over and over because the story they tell is an important one. "All The Bright Places" is such a book. After hearing a lot of glowing reviews for this book, I picked it up. And I was not disappointed.
This review has potential spoilers (though I'm not going to give away the entire story). But, just in case, feel free to click away onto another page!
"All The Bright Places" by Jennifer Niven is a contemporary novel about a 17 year old boy called Theodore Finch and a 17 year old girl called Violet Markey. The plot opens with a scene where this boy is up on the ledge of his high school's bell tower. What he didn't expect to find there is another girl who wishes to commit the same act that he does. This is their first encounter and Violet looks terrified standing up on the ledge - because she has realized that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Finch helps her get off the ledge, forgetting his own plans and thus, saves her life.
The story evolves and we get to know more about why a girl like Violet -who has a perfect life, is popular, is in the cheerleading team, has great friends and amazing parents - was standing on a high ledge, peering down to her own death. The fact that Finch was also up there with her and was probably going to commit the same action is digested by their classmates a lot more easily -because Finch has always been a "weirdo" and a "freak".
Finch and Violet become friends through a class project that they have to do together and eventually come to fall in love. But, Finch has been grappling with a strange sort of darkness all his life and hates that he will only end up hurting the people he loves. Violet must try to do everything she can to save him, before it's too late. Jennifer has written this book from the perspectives of both the characters but mainly, this tale is that of Finch.
The writing is so good, there is never a dull moment. This book is un-put-down-able and of course, I finished it in a single day. Fair warning though, this book will leave you bawling at the end. You'll ugly-cry so hard you'll curse yourself for picking it up. Because this story deals with a very serious and a very important issue - suicide. Jennifer Niven has done an amazing job of writing about such a sensitive issue in such a clear yet touching fashion. She shows us how nobody takes it seriously enough when someone tells them they want to take their own life. How people try to downplay it and brush it off or worse, blame the person who is going through such a thing.
It is true that people sympathize a lot more if the disease is of the body instead of that of the mind. This stems from the belief that bodily diseases are not in our control, so the patient is deserving of all the sympathy in the world. If someone dies from any other reason than a mental ailment, people send flowers and shed tears. But, no flowers appear for suicide victims. Because the world believes that it was the victim's fault - he took away his own life, it was under his control and yet he chose to waste it. And so the stigma continues and the judgement keeps raining down.
I think, it is important to take the time to understand what has gone so wrong that someone wishes to end their own life. Instead of explaining their actions away as a disease or a label (you are bipolar, you are a freak, you are just depressed), it is important to talk to them and let them know that they aren't alone. That they are a person, not just a condition; that somebody cares and understands. Society needs to figure out the fact that diseases of the mind are just as real as ones of the body. That just because you can't measure it with a thermometer, it doesn't mean that the mind is not crumbling apart inside.
The darkness that Finch deals with in the book is a very real one but his own family is so wrapped up in itself that they don't see it. He tries to do everything he can to fight it - the darkness, to stay firmly in control, to not give in. And nobody even knows what he is going through. Because people will see what they want to and believe what they wish to. It takes such a lot of effort to make someone see you for what you are, to tell them how you really feel. It is infinitely easier to just say what they wish to hear in the first place. So much so that it can, eventually, become a defense mechanism.
It takes courage to write about things that matter - and for that and for so much more, I thank Jennifer Niven. Your words, your story will go a long way to giving voice to those who have none, who are drowning in their own vortex. I highly, highly recommend this book. It is a written so beautifully and so well, you'll be thinking about it for days after you've turned the final page.