Thursday, 9 July 2015

Book Review: All the Bright Places

I love to read but I never write any reviews about the books that I read so this summer I intend to write at least one a month. This months book is one suitable for young adults and adults but I think that it may tackle issues that may be difficult to understand fully if you are below the age of 14 or 15. 

This book is All the Bright Places and it is by the author Jennifer Niven. It is the story about two teenagers, Finch and Violet, who meet on the school bell tower after heading up there with the intention of jumping off. It is unclear who saves who but they both make it off the bell tower alive and this encounter starts a friendship like no other. It also delves into the reasons why both characters were on the bell tower and explores the effects of mental illness on friends and individuals. Finch is fascinated with suicide and it is clear from the beginning of the novel that he is battling with an illness. Niven uses him to show how factors such as childhood trauma can lead to depression or bipolar disorder and the daily struggles of living with a mental illness. The character of Violet is struggling after her sisters death and blames herself for the crash that killed her sister but left her pretty much uninjured. With the help of a school project  friendship blooms between Violet and Finch and they both use it to help them through their sadness and issues with the world. Their relationship takes many unexpected twists and turns throughout the novel as both characters struggle to live with themselves and the others around them. Can they save each other and what do they need saving from?

Now if you don't want anymore spoilers because you are reading or you intend on reading this fantastic novel stop reading now because I am going to start giving a lot away.

I loved this book. It was an emotional roller-coaster that took you up and down before crashing at the end. One moment I was on the verge of crying the next laughing (until the end which ended in gut wrenching sobs and plenty of tears). I would give it a rating of four and a half stars because I did have a few issues with the novel that I shall expand on later.

I love books that explore mental illness because it interests me so much and also it brings awareness to them. What I really liked about this book was that it did not glamourise the bipolar disorder that Finch suffers with. It clearly showed that, despite him being in a relationship with someone he loved dearly, you can not be saved from your mind by just a bit of cuddling. Niven showed how complex mental disorders are and how they can easily ruin someones life and for that I applaud her. I also am pleased that she decided to have a character with bipolar disorder instead of depression as it is an illness that is often very misunderstood and overlooked (if you want to see a more personal account of bipolar disorder read THIS book). 

I also liked how Niven showed how a mental illness can affect relationships and used Violet to show the strain of how mental illness can damage and change a relationship, either because the person doesn't want their friend/partner to see them at their worst (at fear of upsetting or becoming a 'burden' to them) or their mood swings cause upset or arguments between people (aspects of bipolar can lead to radical behaviour and mood changes shown just after Finch is expelled from school). Niven showed the sadness it caused 
Violet to be submerged in and also showed how a character with bipolar can think through a situation and (when at their worst) how their mental illness can alter a certain scenario. Overall Niven's tackling of this topic was beautifully executed whilst showing the harsh realities of depression/bipolar disorder.

As I said earlier I do have issues with parts of this book. The main one is the relationship between Violet and Finch - the majority of the time it is a sweet relationship between two people who care very much about each other; however on occasion Finch comes across as controlling and manipulative. It is my personal opinion that it is mainly because of his bipolar disorder and the mood swings that accompany it; however I think that it may be taken the wrong way by readers who don't understand the gravity of the situation and romanticise it (something I can already be seen on Twitter and Tumblr). That is not to say that you can't see their relationship as a cute one but aspects of it do not make a healthy relationships (every now and then I felt like it was verging on abusive). For example at the start of their relationship when Violet told him to to come over to her house but he did anyway making it seem like she didn't have a choice whether to be his friend or not. Another example is when he asks her to have sex with him and Finch classes her 'maybe' are a bad response and only seems happy when she agrees to have sex with him. This wasn't a particularly big part of the novel; however it did not sit well with me.

Another issue that I have with the novel is how Finch's disappearance is handled at the end. Yes he was an 18 year old boy who sometimes left; however if people (for example his school counselor) knew how he was feeling why wasn't more done to help him. Also even if the phone messages were deleted if you were his counselor and no one got in touch back with you wouldn't you go around and speak with the family in person or follow it up? These are not major issues obviously but they were just some questions that I was left with after reading the novel. However it may have been intentional and could be a statement about society only really care when they have to. I am not sure.

At the end of the novel Finch kills himself and it is a horrific series of events.The one thing that I liked about this part was that Niven shows that suicide is seen as something to be ashamed off - families will quickly pass them off as accidents in fear of them being looked down upon and their actions as parents being questioned. Also as Niven says in her acknowledgments 'no one brings flowers to a funeral'. I was glad this was brought up as it is something that I have an issue with and believe that if suicide was not seen as such a shameful thing, more people would get help.

This part of the book is very triggering - there are other places in the novel that are; (when Finch takes an overdose of pills, when he discusses methods of killing yourself or when he visits a support group) however this was the most triggering section for me. I would encourage anyone to read this novel; however I feel like one should approach is with caution bearing in mind the main topic in this book.

Overall this is a brilliant novel that explores mental illness using complex characters that you WILL get attached to. It is an upsetting book and it makes you question a number of things about society and how mental illness is perceived. There are issues with it (in my opinion) that may lead to younger teenagers romanticising an unhealthy relationship; however I feel that Niven had to include these aspects as they are part of Finch's character. Read this and prepare to cry (a lot) and, despite it not being a lighthearted book, laugh at moments. All the Bright Places will make you stop and think about society and the world around you and will probably stay with you for a long time.

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