Thursday, January 1, 2015

All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House), Hardcover, January 6, 2015 (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 388 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: December 18, 2014
Finished: January 1, 2015

From the back cover:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches - and manages to find - something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.

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

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school - six stories above the ground - it's unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the "natural wonders" of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising - just like life.

Soon it's only with Violet that that Finch can be himself - a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink.

This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.

This release has had a lot of hype, claiming to be the next hit like those from Rainbow Rowell and John Green. Having read Eleanor and Park and The Fault in Our Stars and adored them (as have most people who have read them), the kind of claim can be off-putting. Thankfully though, this author is amazingly talented and the hype is well-deserved, I do think this will be a YA hit this year.

Theodore Finch struggles with mental illness It's clear from the beginning that he's dealing with something, but the specific diagnosis isn't given until practically the end. He has been bullied for years, called a freak, and doesn't fit in at school or among his dysfunctional family. Violet is suffering from PTSD from the car accident that killed her older sister a year ago. She used to run a writing blog with Eleanor but can't bring herself to write anymore, or get anywhere near a car. Her life has stalled, which brings her to the school bell tower.

Violet and Finch meet at the bell tower, and Finch talks her down (and himself). From that, they are assigned to work on a school project which takes the pair to thought-provoking destinations that offer life lessons and insight. Misunderstood and feeling alone, the two form a bond, both looking for reasons to live. Violet blossoms due to Finch's attention, while Finch struggles to survive.

First off, I loved Finch, his personality was so charming and his numerous personas were hilarious, particularly 80s Finch, which was something straight out of a John Hughes movie. His narration was wonderfully done, the day-to-day struggles with bipolar disorder were incredibly realistic and raw.  Violet wasn't as much of a favourite as Finch due to personality, but she was a likeable and realistic portrayal of a person trying to move past a traumatic experience and move on with her life after losing a pivotal person such as her sister.

Huge, catastrophic stuff goes down. Just a warning, you will cry like a baby. I liked how it was handled, realistically and sensitively, and I appreciated how the author included various hotlines and websites at the end. Obviously suicide is mentioned quite often throughout the book (can't say much more due to spoilers), and this is one of the few books that I feel handles such a sensitive subject quite well.

You must read this. If you like John Green's books, this one has a similar writing style and feel. If you like the charisma of Rainbow Rowell's books, you will love Violet and Finch. Though the book does deal heavily with suicide and mental illness, these subjects are handled sensitively and well. Truly a stellar book.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The soft blues, purples, and yellows, the bird and the flower, the post-it note layout, it's awesome.

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