The great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody.”
When I first read a synopsis of All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, I knew it was a book I wanted to read. On a surface level, I don't know what drew me to it-two kids meet at the bell tower of their school when they want to jump off and kill themselves-so why did I want to read it so badly?
I truly believe that there are times when books find us. Niven's book was the first title in a long time that I was genuinely excited to pick and read. And so I ordered it and waited until I had a night that I could fully immerse myself. And I was right-that I would want to sit and read the book straight through-to be fully engaged in the voices of both Theodore Finch and Violet Markey.
Theodore is the freak of the school-always odd and eccentric and never quite fitting in. He goes through periods of time where he feels like he's asleep as he doesn't remember day to day interactions or things that make him feel alive. It is when he is awake that he finds himself at the top of the school's bell tower, ready to jump off. He is stopped when he sees a girl also standing on the ledge, and determines then to save her.
Violet Markey is a popular girl at school. However, she's still coming to terms with the tragic death of her sister, who died in a car accident a year earlier. While many around her have moved on, Violet has yet to come to terms with the death of her sister and the impact it truly had on her life. She refuses to ride in cars, is worried that her presence upsets her parents, and wonders whether life is truly worth it. It's with those thoughts that she finds herself on the bell tower.
When the two save each other, they start a friendship that soon turns to something more. Together, the both battle their depression and attempt to heal one another. But it's clear to the reader that their depression is very different and their reasons for being on the bell tower are disparate. Theodore, as it is hinted at throughout the book, suffers from definite chemical imbalances (there is a direct reference to bipolar disorder). Violet, on the other hand, suffers from grief and depression.
It was Violet as I was first drawn to, and this line in particular....
“It's my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”
I had to stop reading and write that down, as it struck home. As someone who suffers from a chronic illness that is mostly invisible, I know that feeling. It's hard for people to understand or be sympathetic when there are no outward signs of something being wrong. On my bad days, I try as hard as possible to look normal and act like myself. It's rare that anyone picks up on my actual state of being (unless it's a horrible day-then it's pretty obvious). For Violet, her grief is much the same. I've never been in her situation, and I'm sure many high schoolers aren't either. In high school, life moves quickly, and many high schoolers since themselves as invincible. But we all know that isn't the case. Violet is there.
But I digress.
What I loved most about the novel was the language, and the feeling in my stomach that while these two attempted to heal each other, as a reader I knew that something would happen. And of course, in any book that is about suicide, you know that something has to happen to truly develop the characters and the story.
And when things did happen, I dissolved into a mess. I don't think I get overly emotional when reading-meaning that I don't outwardly cry that often-but I did while reading this. It got to me. There was something beautiful and raw in their story.
And I also found myself pulling for Theodore, as I see some of my students in him. There is always a struggle when you are not the same as everyone else, but Theodore fought through it and stayed true to himself, which, I think, is a hard thing for high schoolers.
Above all, I just plain loved the story. It has some hope, some sorrow, but I think it leaves the reader with a lot to think about. I, for one, was reminded that behind every smiling face, there is a deeper story. Sometimes we are lucky and people share those stories with us. And other times, we find out their truth when it's too late.
If you passed this one over, give it another look. I promise you won't be disappointed.
“I walk through the black Indiana night, under a ceiling of stars, and think about the phrase "elegance and euphoria," and how it describes exactly what I feel with Violet. For once, I don't want to be anyone but Theodore Finch, the boy she sees. He understands what it is to be elegant and euphoric and a hundered different people most of them flawed and stupid, part asshole, part screwup, part freak, a boy who wants to be easy for the folks around him so that he doesn't worry them and, most of all, easy for himself. A boy who belongs - here in the world, here in his own skin. He is exactly who I want to be and what I want my epitaph to say: The Boy Violet Markey Loves.”