This book, by Jennifer Niven, was my fifteenth read of the year, in this so incredibly doomed attempt at the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge. Having completely given up on ever achieving 100, I set my sights lower this year and it’s still not going well!
*TRIGGER WARNING* There will be mentions of suicide, self harm and mental health issues throughout this review, due to the topic of the book. I strongly recommend you do not continue reading if these topics will cause you any distress or harm.
A vague attempt at a summary
The story begins with one of our protagonists on the roof of a tower block in his school, Theodore Finch is fascinated with death and approaches his suicidal thoughts with a kind of heavy sense of inevitability. So he constantly tests himself to see if, this time, he will follow through; each time finding a reason to live instead, even if it’s just the grim prospect of how messy his corpse will be on the ground below. As he stands there on the roof, he realises he is not alone, discovering one of the school’s popular, pretty girls is also on the roof with him and he decides to save her and talk her down. The people in his school are so used to him doing ‘weird’ stuff like this, they assume it’s Violet who rescued him, instead of the other way around.
Finch makes it his mission to convince Violet, who is trying to work through her grief after losing her sister in an accident she survived, to live. He manages to wangle his way into being her partner in a group project, which involves exploring the ‘wonders’ of their home town and state. Finch uses these adventures to help Violet work through some of her trauma, helping her to open up and see joy in life again.
The book jumps between Theo and Violet’s point of view and we experience Finch’s deteriorating mental health, alongside Violet’s improving mental state. Meaning the reader knows how sick Finch is but it seems like no one else, not even Violet, understands how bad he’s doing.
Throughout we are treated to Finch’s exploration of different ways he could die and each time he draws back at the last moment, all while he does his very best to free Violet of the hell they’re both trapped in.
The story deals with the subject in a way that’s both blunt and extremely delicate, There is a clear difference between what Violent is going through and Finch’s undiagnosed and debiliating mental health condition. Although, to be clear, neither reason for their suicidal thoughts is ranked against the other, this just helps the reader understand the different ways and reasons someone might experience these thoughts. The story also explores the support system each character has behind them, as both are contributing factors to how each of them deal with with what they are going through. While Violet finds she can open open to her parents, who are understanding and loving, as she recovers. Finch’s family choose to turn a blind eye to the point of neglect.
The story also explores the stigma of mental health, which is the main reason Finch doesn’t seek the help he needs, for fear of being ‘labelled’.
Holy shit. This book is so good, I don’t think I can put it into words. It explains and explorers the subject of suicide in a way that a teen or an adult could understand and empathise with. It hits so many facets of this very complex topic, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book, especially a YA one, that deals with subject so well and so realistically. It handles it without glorifying the topic (looking at you Thirteen Reasons Why) and without the stigma and guilt usually weighted at the person suffering for being so ‘selfish’ (a statement I have always found infuriating fyi).
And, although I have made this book sound very serious and heavy, it’s really not, or at least, that’s not the message I take away from it. Don’t get me wrong, I cried so hard I was sobbing in the bath, even through the water had gone cold because I couldn’t face getting up and going out in the hall and having family asking me what was up!
The message is about ‘the bright places’, finding the things that make life worth living until it gets easier, until it’s no longer a struggle. It’s about connecting with people, finding the right help, relying on your support system and fighting even when you’re tired because the alternative is nothing but tragedy, for both the person who is lost and the people they leave behind. It explores all the incredible, raw beauty, of life and I really loved the message it was trying to impart.
I really do think if you’re seeking to understand someone whose struggling, this might help you see things from their point of view. At least, that how I felt reading it because it explores it so well.
So I don’t know, I guess you’ve finally seen what a review looks like for a book that fully reached into my chest and took hold of my little nerdy bookish heart! It was, hands down, the best thing I’ve read in a really long time. it also helped to knock me out of a pretty bad reading/ creative slump, so, that was also pretty cool too.
Lastly, following the message of this book, if you’re reading this review and you’re struggling with some of the topic’s mentioned, please take away the message that there are always ‘bright places’ to be found and that there’s no reason to suffer in silence.
Also, at the time of writing this we were officially all caught up with my current reads for the year, so I reckon there will be some more to follow not long after this but it will no longer be the main theme of ALL the posts coming up!
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