Theodore Finch spends his days thinking up ways to die. He reads about successful suicides and memorizes statistics. He has memorized famous suicide notes. He knows poems about suicide by heart. He is a walking fountain of knowledge when it comes to death. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on in Finch’s head, but everybody knows he’s a freak.
Violet Markey’s older sister Eleanor recently died in a car accident, leaving Violet herself unsure why she’s still here. As she’s contemplating her life on the school’s bell tower, Finch talks her down. The two strike up a wary friendship, quickly followed by an intense romance. But as their feelings for each other deepen and Violet begins to come out of her self-imposed exile, Finch starts to disappear.
Please note that there are a whole lot of spoilers below.
I am not going to rate this book. On one hand, it’s beautifully written. I never wanted to put it down. On the other hand, I’m mad. Furious, actually. I don’t agree with the choices that Nivens made, not only for the plot but also for the characters and the overall message of the book. I will go into this point in depth later in my review, but, in short, I feel like this book was emotionally manipulative and irresponsible.
At times, All The Bright Places feels like a rip-off of The Fault In Our Stars. There are the obvious comparisons, of course. Both books are about teenagers that fall quickly and deeply in love. Both books have a sense of impending death hanging over the story. Both books seem to be written with the sole purpose of making the reader cry. There are other similarities, too, though, like the girls with color names and the boys with old-fashioned names. The travel. Even the characters’ interests and the way they talk to each other are similar to TFiOS. But this wasn’t my biggest problem with the book.
It’s fine to make me care so much about a fictional teenage boy that I want to adopt him and give him everything he never got from his parents. Those are some of the best characters. But then to kill him off for seemingly no reason other than to make your main character and your readers cry? That’s too much. What, in all seriousness, was the reason for killing off Finch? I was horrified. His death hit me so hard that I felt like I was suffocating. Tears were streaming down my face. Good job, Nivens. You won. But why?
Do I think that it’s important to write about mental illness? Yes. Do I think that it’s important to write about suicide? Yes. But this book makes mental illness seem like a cute quirk. (Hey, Finch is suicidal. Isn’t he so sexy and mysterious?) The mental illness in this book exists as a plot device. Theodore Finch is a cute, smooth-talking mental illness. He is not much else. The entirety of Violet’s character development is based on her reactions to Finch and his problems. Finch’s mental illness is glamorized and romanticized, and his death comes across as inevitable given how “different” and “misunderstood” he was.
Back to the thing I said earlier about how this book is irresponsible. I don’t care about the author’s note at the end. Most people aren’t going to read that anyway. I don’t care about Finch’s note at the end that takes some of Nivens’ blame off of Violet. The implication is that Finch killed himself because Violet tattled. That because she went and told her parents that he was suicidal, he had no choice but to kill himself. Does Nivens understand how dangerous that mentality is? Kids with suicidal friends are going to read this book and think, “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t tell anyone because that will only make it worse.” Sure, people tell Violet it wasn’t her fault. But that’s not what stuck with me, someone in her late twenties who, in her youth, did have suicidal friends. What are impressionable teens going to think?
As for those friends of mine, I told. It was hard. They were mad at me. They were hospitalized. And they are still alive a decade later, and we are still friends. That is a better story. But no. Nivens has decided to place at least some of the blame for Finch’s death on Violet, and I cannot stand for that.
Everybody is going to get something different out of this book. That’s obvious with any book out there. I had serious problems with it but also loved it at the same time. I’m not going to rate it and I can’t recommend that you read it. But if you do decide to pick it up, I would be curious to know what you think.
Final rating: Not rated.