It's not often that the first time you see a character, they are considering pitching themselves off a six story bell tower. However, this is how we meet Theodore Finch, from Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places. As Finch welcomes the students below him to his death, he notices a girl standing on the ledge opposite him. This girl, Violet Markey, is too terrified to move. So,as any fictional gentleman would, Theodore helps Violet by talking her through how to get off. From this moment on, we are swept up into a whirlwind of flirting and exploration and laughter and love as these two beautiful characters find their missing half in each other. However, this is definitely not a book for those looking to recover from depression or a suicide attempt. The couple’s perfect relationship is ended when Finch drowns himself.
While I absolutely love All The Bright Places, it does have some holes. Violet and Finch are beautifully complex, developed characters, but others are quite one-dimensional. Take, for example, Mrs. Finch. Mrs. Finch is a sad, divorced, middle aged mother of three. She had an abusive ex husband who left and got married to a new, younger lady with a kid. We most often see Mrs. Finch tired and empty, barely present enough to keep her kids together. At dinners, Finch and his younger sister Decca, who is eight, just sit in near complete silence with their mother. When someone does talk, it's usually Decca swearing profusely and getting no punishment. Mrs. Finch is so distant and emotionally weak that she asks Violet to be the one to go find Theodore’s body. As one would expect, seeing the boy she loves bloated and disfigured and dead takes quite a toll on Violet, but Mrs. Finch acts as if she is the one who should be traumatized. Another frustrating character is that of Roamer. Roamer was apparently Finch’s friend until “A few years ago, I asked my then good friend Gabe Romero if he could feel sound and see headaches, if the spaces around him ever grew or shrank, if he ever wondered what would happen if he jumped in front of a car or a bus, if he thought that it would be enough to make it stop. I asked him to try it with me, just to see, because I had this feeling, deep down, that I was make-believe, which meant invincible, and he went home and told his parents, and they told my teacher, who told the principal, who told my parents, who said to me, Is this true, Theodore? Are you telling stories to your friends? The next day it was all over school, and I was officially Theodore Freak.” ( Niven,141) Clearly, from this point on, Roamer has tormented and humiliated Finch, with no sympathy for his friend. This is almost difficult to understand, abandoning a friend over one genuine question that they don't consider inappropriate or strange. Not only is it the abandonment that bothers me, but also the ruthlessness with which Roamer bullies Finch. This, as well as Mrs. Finch’s neglective ways are two of the most frustrating things for me as a reader.
Even though as a reader I am bothered by some the character’s lack of realistic reactions and emotional intelligence, I adored the way Finch and Violet’s characters were written with such a different and realistic take on mental illness. Violet, depressed and ruined by her sister’s death, has been barely scraping by at school and at home, counting the days until she can graduate and move as far away from the snow and ice that caused her sister’s car to crash as possible. Meanwhile, Theodore Finch lives with his mother, older sister Kate (18), and younger sister Decca (8) who don't pay much attention to him. He hasn’t been content with his life in years, and he has some sort of mental problem that causes him to just stop, sometimes for months at a time. The way the concept of suicide is explained and dealt with in All the Bright Places is refreshingly new and realistic. Theodore is not suicidal because he is bullied, he is suicidal because he knows that he is in control of himself when it happens. Most of the time, Theodore is not under his own control, his brain can shut down at any moment, but he figures suicide is a way to make that stop forever. This new view led me to see suicide not as an act of defeat, but as one of finality. Meanwhile, Violet’s depression comes not just from sadness, but also fear. She is so scared that she ‘isn't ready’ that Violet never moves on from where she is. So often depression is shown as something that can happen exclusively if someone is sad, but we can see that Violet is just afraid to grow. It was the interesting and different view of both the characters and the topics of depression and suicide that made me love this book so much.
While some of the characters were underdeveloped or acted unrealistically, I thought that Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places was a masterpiece that allowed me to see the ideas of death and love in new ways. All in all, this book had some bright places and some not so bright places, but no matter what, it was worth the read.
If you read and enjoyed, agreed, or disagreed with this blog post in any way, leave a comment and explain your thoughts! Did you like the way the book ended, and why?