Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tea Time: All the Bright Places

**Warning: Spoilers May Abound**

All the Bright Places, Jennifer Nevin

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.(source:goodreads)

Narrative: This book is told from the first-person multiple-POVs of the lovable Finch and Violet. I was extremely impressed by this; I've always found it rather difficult to write in multiple POVs from the first person, simply because of the challenge of giving each narrator a distinct voice that's their own: if I turn to a random page, I should be able to tell whose mind I'm in. Niven did this expertly. Finch's voice was always exactly honest, and sometimes dark, and sarcastic, and humorous. Violet's was much more toned down, stating the facts, and simple. As a pair, these two told a story that was both heartbreaking and hopeful, all while saying the things we've all been thinking. Where Violet's voice was familiar, Finch's was unfamiliar; when they came together, they created a narrative definitely worth reading.


Plot: It starts simply enough: Finch is on the roof of the school, and so is Violet. Once they come down, everyone thinks Violet talked Finch out of jumping (because evidently he's been known for doing things like that before), when, in reality, it was Finch who talked Violet down.

From there it's an albeit strange road to friendship: Violet's trying to pretend that she doesn't like him - the school project is the only reason she's around him - while at the same time she's coming to terms with the fact that Finch is so much better for her than her "friends." Meanwhile, Finch becomes somewhat obsessed with her (excuse me for saying "obsessed"; it's not in a bad way, it's a positive way in which he becomes unafraid to talk to her and be around her, regardless of the stipulations put on him thanks to the social order of high school) simply because she smiled at him. Admittedly, Finch's behavior toward Violet was strange to me at first; then it dawned on me that Violet simply interested him, both romantically and socially.

The relationship between Violet and Finch evolves very naturally. Over the course of a few months, they explore the strangest parts of their state, originally for their project and eventually because it's their way of being themselves, and it all culminates in much sadness and depression and my very own tears.

This book isn't for the faint-hearted.

Remember when I said that the two narrators say the things we're all thinking? The book, itself, tackles a variety of issues that we all see but never mention. Most notable (for me, at least) was the impact of labels and how destructive they are in any circumstance, but especially that of mental illness. The second most notable was the idea - the very true idea - that once people get used to certain behavior, it ceases to become bothersome or a cause for concern. Case in point: Finch tended to disappear often, it was just "what he did." That kind of thinking is dangerous in any situation, and Niven definitely brings up the consequences of looking the other way when you simply don't want to believe something's wrong.

To put it simply: what I really want to say about this book is that it is truly startling how humbling it is. The plot starts full of hope, imbuing the reader with a sense that, hey, now that these two lost souls have found each other, maybe things will be okay. Yet it's all proved wrong in an amazing narrative in which the author portrays everything that's wrong with the way people handle those with mental illnesses - and even what happens when those who really do want to help can't do so because of the negative impacts other peoples' words and actions have had on them.

This book is beautiful, hopeful, heart-breaking, and richly-crafted. And kind of intense. All at once.


Characters: Given that Finch and Violet are the main characters and they're both so different, and they're complex; I'll focus on them:

Finch. Freaking Finch is a heart-breaker is what he is (and yes I realize I've already used this adjective). Theodore Finch is from a home where his mother is gone all the time and refused to acknowledge that something's wrong; his oldest sister always covers for him; his youngest is a bit young to really notice; and, last, his father left them and re-married, and he's abusive. At the start of the book, he's just recovered from a "blackness," which has been dubbed just a regular flu according to his sister (who pretended to be their mother). His friends just thought he'd disappeared for a while, and Finch never offers the real reasons - his depression - because the last time he opened up to a friend he was dubbed the "freak." Finch is both kind and cold, compassionate and completely hollow. He's been pushed into his own corner for so long that he doesn't know how to do anything but trust himself, and nobody else.

Which brings me to Violet. Broken and also hollow Violet, who - nearly a year after her sister's death - still can't get over the guilt. As she fades to the background, she's started seeing through her "friends" and the boy she once wanted as a boyfriend; her sister's loss has caused herself to reevaluate who she is, and at the beginning of the book she's not quite sure who she was. She has an otherwise "perfect" life: parents who care about her, pretty (although she claims her bangs looked awful after she purposely cut them to look bad; as punishment), popular. She has a fear of driving/riding in a car. And Finch turns her world upside down by telling her that there are no perfect days. The first person who actually tries to help her and get her to talk about what's happened happens to be Theodore Finch, who forces their partnership in their geography class and who's a strange, humorous, and deeply troubled being.

The relationship between Finch and Violet is striking. Not only does Finch help Violet open up again and be herself, but Violet is one of the few to give Finch a real chance, and who makes an attempt to find out who he really is. Even after their relationship turns romantic (and physical), however, there's a part of Finch that never quite manages to open up. Violet learns things about Finch from third-parties who she and the reader thinks involved, and Finch's anger conditioned independence causes him to push away from maybe the one person who genuinely cares. This is why I think Finch is such a complex character: his problems don't simply go away once he falls in love. Violet, too, gives their relationship a strange balance: while Violet goes up, Finch actually goes down; their relationship feels very even in terms of their lives looking hopeful, and then things simply explode due to their base personalities and the way the world has shaped them.

Nevin took great care in crafting both of these characters, and it shows.


Final Answer: 4.66 / 5 stars

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ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES @jenniferniven is "heart-breaking and richly-crafted. All at once." (Click to Tweet)

Blogger @Rae_Slater reviews ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES @jenniferniven and calls it an intense + humbling book worth reading (Click to Tweet)

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