Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

All The Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven || nope nope nope

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Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
 
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

I’ve always intentionally ignored All The Bright Places for some unknown reasons. There are so many things I’ve heard about this book, and I always had the notion that I would hate it if I ever did read it. Well, I did read it eventually, and I did strongly dislike. I was so disinterested in this novel and something felt totally ‘wrong’ with it as I was reading it. What directly bothered me about it is hard to pinpoint, but I felt very uncomfortable with the story and the romance and … everything, really. I hate to give it such a negative rating, but it is what it is.

The writing + plot: The writing was fairly typical of a contemporary novel, however I couldn’t get into at all. It lacked the emotion behind discussion of serious topics such as depression and suicide, as well as the popular dark comedic flair that is frequently seen in the likes of The Fault In Our Stars or Side Effects May Vary. It felt as though the prose was missing something very significant to bring the characters, story, and message to life. The writing obviously would have struck a cord within other readers, but it wasn’t doing anything for me and largely contributed to my disinterest in the story. While the plot/storyline progressed slowly, much of the events that took place seemed driven by the overelaborate and pretentious themes penned by Finch, and I was not here for it. The whole thing felt very superficial and shallow, despite claiming to discuss mental illness and other deeper subjects.

Mental illness: There seems to have been much controversy over the way mental illness is depicted in this novel, and while I do not doubt Jennifer Niven’s knowledge and experience with the subject (her author’s note is proof that she kind of knows what she’s talking about), something does feel very wrong here to me. Theodore is obviously mentally ill in some way, as we see in his frequent thoughts on death and suicide, as well as his narration. However, it seems as though his condition (later revealed to be bipolar disorder) is covered up in a set of quirks that is intriguing to everyone around him. His ornate narration and quirky, showy persona are meant to make him stick out to capture Violet and intrigue everyone else, yet his actual mental illness is never expanded on or portrayed realistically in the face of others. Nearly nobody in this book treats Theodore realistically when it comes his mental health, and while it shows the misunderstandings and poor handling of mental health in our society, Theodore’s issues with death and suicide are merely used as ‘quirks’ to make the character different. His bipolar disorder seems almost ignored and it creates a false image of mental illness through romanticizing Theodore’s condition. I don’t know if that conveys how I truly feel, but I felt very uncomfortable by the depiction of mental illness in this book. The topic seemed to only serve the purpose of moving the plot along, not creating a realistic and relatable picture of mental health conditions and how it is handled.

Characters: Many readers have also stated that the characters become their illness and problems in this book, and I can see that. Theodore’s narration is essentially a collection of cheesy metaphors, Virginia Woolf quotes, and pretentious and unrealistic musings on Violet and life. His voice sounded like a mix of Holden Caulfield and Augustus Waters, and I could at least try to get past that if Theodore sounded like a realistic teenager who was struggling with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Throughout the entire story, I could never reach the true Theodore, past all the ‘quirks’ of his. Violet is an extremely flat character, the emotion and grief she supposedly felt for her sister lacked depth and was so toned down, it was barely there. I could not connect with her at all, but at least her narration was a tad more bearable than Theodore’s. Every other character hardly serves a purpose but to scrutinize Theodore, Violet, or Theodore and Violet. The adults are hilariously incompetent, they take completely unrealistic actions and seem to be oblivious to everything around them, and they are probably that way to allow these teenagers to say and do all the stupid shit that took place in this book.

The romance: Theodore and Violet’s relationship is the weirdest, confusing, most disturbing thing ever. All Theodore ever does is lust after Violet and responds to her ‘leave me alones’ with further harassment. He creates a Facebook account just to talk to her, messages her constantly, and even stalks her. It’s creepy and weird, and even weirder that Violet manages to fall for him so soon after telling him to leave her alone. One second she’s openly refusing his attention and the next she’s ripping her clothes off. Their romance is a mix of insta-love and every indie-romance cliche you could think of. And this whole idea of them ‘saving each other’ feels so fake because their whole relationship is built upon emotional manipulation.

I hate the uneasy feeling All The Bright Places gives me, and it’s not even an uneasy feeling I like, where I read something so profound yet raw that makes me feel uncomfortable in the best way possible. Everything about this book feels so false, and I would urge readers to look elsewhere for a story which portrays mental illness correctly and does not romanticize it.

-Haven