All The Bright Places (A Review)

“You are all the colours in one. At full brightness”

– Theodore Finch

Normally I don’t tend to dive into young adult novels as I find them to be kind of cliché and the “woe is me” feeling to be somewhat drab. This book came up on a Reddit thread and I figured I would give it a go.

This book is somewhat typical in the theme that would have a popular kid and a misfit fall for each other, however, I found it very different in many ways as well. To be honest, I think this story is one that deals with some very adult subjects. These emotions and situations are ones that I still find myself wrestling with, even in to my 30’s. Some of the main ones that the book deals with are feelings of self worth, feelings of helplessness, dealing with loss, suicide, and also finding love.

Two kids that are on the outside, in very different situations, find themselves at the top of the school bell tower. Even though they seem to be polar opposites, they are both there for the same reason. Finch and Violet.

Violet is new to the school and area but is dealing with the profound loss of her sister, Elanor in a car accident the year before. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one unexpectedly knows that it’s not simply grief that one feels. There are a million emotions that you will run through over the course of learning to deal with your loss. There is anger, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, and sadness. It can often feel like a black hole that you’ve been sucked into. Having to deal with all of those things and also going through your typical teenage hormonal changes would be a really tough go. This is why Violet found herself on top of that bell tower that day. This is where she met Finch.

Finch is the weird kid at school. He’s been labelled a “Freak” and has many unfavourable rumors floating around about him. Unlike Violet, his family situation is less than ideal. He has a mother who’s checked out, and a father who abandoned the family and will routinely get physical with Finch when they are in the same room. He’s been left to his own devices for some time and although he is seeing a counselor at school, he has an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. Later on in the books it’s revealed that it may be Bipolar disorder which would explain his manic swings and episodes. He toys with the idea of suicide routinely and this is the reason that he found himself on top of that bell tower. This is where he talked Violet down.

The two of them are paired up for a US geography project and throughout their adventures, they fall for each other. Finch drags Violet kicking and screaming out of this hole that she has dug herself into. She learns to live life again and to enjoy herself. She learns that she can have fun and laugh, and love all while still honouring her late sisters memory. This is something that I think everyone deals with when going through a loss like that.

The same can’t be said for Finch unfortunately. He gets expelled from school and winds up creating a living space in his room closet. He will stay there for some time and will eventually disappear after an argument with Violet. When he disappears the first reaction from his family is to say “He does this all the time, it’s normal” and they don’t put any second thoughts into it. He will in the end, ultimately lose his battle with his mental illness and his own personal demons. This book does not have a happy ending and I think that it is a really good argument for better mental health awareness and support, especially in young adults. By the time anyone noticed that Finch was in serious trouble, it was too late.

“You have been in every way all that anyone could be.… If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.”

– Theodore Finch

This review turned out to be a little bit of a ramble but that’s alright. Overall, the book is really well written and laid out. I laughed, and cried and felt like I had become attached to these two characters. It tugged at my heart strings in many different ways and had me not wanting to put it down. Virginia Woolf who lost her own battle with mental illness, is also quoted throughout the book as well and that adds a lot to it. The only critique that I have is that it seems to be cut short in the end. I would have liked to know what Violets life was like after having gone to university and how she had managed to find her life again. But overall, it’s worth the read.

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