All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Is there a way to write a review without a spoiler? The book elicited a strong emotional response which is always difficult to see through in order to write a review. There were moments of Me Since You by Laura Weiss.
The book begins with Finch and Violet on the bell tower at their school. Finch talks Violet down then barges into her life by volunteering to be her partner on a school project which involves seeing a couple of marvels of the great state of Indiana. Violet is not a happy camper about this if only for the fact that she has a facade to maintain. But Finch sees that her smile never reaches her eyes. Except once and that's why Finch decides to intervene.
These are two vastly different characters yet they begin the book at the top of the bell tower contemplating suicide independently and at the same time. There is a strong element of comparing and contrasting by the author without her expressly writing it out. Violet is a pretty, bright, popular girl who lost her sister in a car accident. Violet is changed due to the tragedy and uses her extenuating circumstances to not push herself.
Finch's demons are internal, for the most part, although his family dynamics are a contributing factor for his depression. The aspect that was new for a book like this one is that the author writes the character in a bipolar cycle, although this is not cemented until later in the book. Finch talks of disappearing and going to Sleep. The Sleep is not literal but a place where he loses himself.
Finch is interesting, charismatic, and unstable, although he presents himself with confidence and stability, he changes personas often, trying them on like a different coat or shoes. He then discards them when he believes they no longer work. Nobody really knows Finch and the reader gains a greater understanding of external and internal forces that push these two characters to the brink of mortality. While Finch's relationship with Violet develops into something unique and stabilizing, the reader enjoys the healing power of friendship and acceptance for Violet. In contrast, the reader watches Finch through his bipolar spiral and feels the helplessness of an untreated condition.
It is such a heavy and difficult subject to write about and, I think what really pushed my emotional buttons, was the realization that the book is semi-autobiographical. The author is not writing a book about something removed from herself. She is writing about her personal experience that changed her. She was able to process the experience to a point that she understood enough to see the bright places of her relationships and shared her insights by writing a novel. Honestly, fiction rarely moves me and it ticked me off that I was crying through the end of the book until I realized it wasn't a true fiction novel but a personal experience which means that I get to keep my integrity, private as my tears were. Thanks for that.
There is much more I want to say but I don't want to spoil it because it is a book to be experienced and not summarized.