Is today a good day to die?
We all have bad days. Days where we question everything; the reason we were born, the point to our existence, whether anybody would truly miss us if we were to disappear. As humans that is one thing we should be able to express wholeheartedly; emotions, feelings, empathy and sympathy for ourselves and for others. Depression is different, it’s more than feeling unhappy or weary, depression is when you feel low persistently, isolated constantly and sad relentlessly. ‘All The Bright Places’ is a YA novel written by American author Jennifer Niven delving in to the hard reality of mental illness and suicide.
Violet Markey is devastated by the death of her older sister who dies in a car accident one night on her way home from a friend’s party. Violet feels as though she’ll never overcome the guilt for surviving the accident when her sister never, or the sadness in losing the person who meant the most to her. Theodore Finch has just come out of a major depressive episode, he is fascinated with death and ways of killing himself but at the same time is searching for something to keep him alive and awake everyday. They meet on the ledge of their school bell tower, six stories above the ground, both contemplating how it would feel to jump and leave everything behind, it is here that their unusual friendship begins. Partnered up for their school Geography project, Finch and Violet begin their wandering of Indiana, it is through these expeditions of Indiana’s natural wonders that their friendship begins to grow.
I loved the character of Finch, he is impulsive and dramatic, his life is a rollercoaster and he’s not afraid of the speed, he plunges in to things head first. Ultimately it is this very manic idea of adventure that shows Violet that she can deal with her grief, move forward with her life and look forward to the future. Finch can only be himself around Violet, without being judged, without being called a ‘freak’ for being different. Their bond is special; Finch appears to be the happiest he’s been in weeks and Violet no longer lives crossing off her days on a calendar but learns to enjoy life again. Until Finch’s struggle between wanting to die and searching for a reason to live begin to sink until not even his love for Violet can convince him that life and living has any value.
At the end of the book I was left feeling extremely sad for Violet. Just as she begins to live again and overcomes the death of her sister, Finch goes away just like he warns her that he would, but I, like Violet had faith that he wouldn’t put her through going through the loss of a loved one again. It’s frustrating to reach the last page and realise that Finch never gets any real help, not from his counsellor or his family. His mother loves him but is happy to turn a blind eye to her son’s personality and mood swings because she doesn’t have the strength to deal with accepting that he may need professional help so soon after her husband leaves them. His family are happy to say ‘that’s just how Finch is, he’s always been like that,’ instead of helping him establish and overcome the root to his unhappiness. Before Finch drowns himself, he leaves one last message to the people who meant the most to him; his two friends at school, to Violet and to his mother and two sisters. In the message to his family he speaks about the time when he was younger, when they were happy and their father was still with them. He says: ‘We were happy. We were good. Each and everyone of us. The happy times went away for a while, but they’re coming back.’ Suggesting that he believes that their lives will be better and happier when he’s gone and he’ll be happier gone too. The novel also discusses the stigma around labelling mental illnesses, Finch rejects the label ‘bipolar disorder,’ because he believes people should never be defined by labels or an illness. We never really get an insight to his feelings leading up to his suicide as the end of the book becomes more about Violet’s story of dealing with Finch distancing from her and the rest of the world.
This book is for anyone who enjoys an inspirational young love story under the shadow of a devastating illness, Jennifer Niven’s writing is beautiful, witty and believable, her ideas are compelling, the structure to her prose endearing, the plot is strong despite some common cliche’s (boy warns girl that he’ll hurt her, but girl insists he won’t) but most of all Finch’s character is absolute; which makes his suicide all the more gutting. Ultimately it’s an insightful story about a unique friendship of two unique people; the girl who learns to live again from the boy who wants to die.
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