Thursday, 14 May 2015

Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

*I have done my best to make this spoiler free* 

Some books come to you at the 'right time' - All The Bright Places was one for me. A short while ago, my boyfriend and I experienced the death of a very close friend through suicide. I didn't intentionally pick up this book because it dealt with that - I had just heard really great things about it on the blogosphere and was recommended it by Lucy aka Queen of Contemporary via Twitter. And I am so glad I followed the recommendation. 
I will say right off the bat that I am unable to approach this book the way others may - my reading is far too personal, and it is for that reason that I will not be rating it. I will share my thoughts on it with you below though.  

At first, I didn't enjoy All The Bright Places. I didn't connect with Finch and found that his dialogue didn't ring true for me. I found the same for Violet. It wasn't until about 40 pages in that I really began to understand them. This dislike could very well be down to my attitude as I had been experiencing something of a reading slump. I'm also a very hard person to please right off the bat, but this novel grows and grows and pulls you in a word at a time. 
As it does, Finch stands out as the shining star. He is magnetic, charming and has an indefinable quality that makes you care about him deeply- even if he makes it hard sometimes. It sings very true throughout that the author loved and experienced the loss of someone like Finch. I truly admire Jennifer Niven for her incredible bravery and willingness to share so much of herself. If I could suggest one thing for people picking this book up for the first time, it would be to start with the author's notes at the back. Knowing the author's first-hand experience adds a gravitas and heartbreaking quality to everything thereafter.  

I believe an author's greatest achievement is making readers truly care about their characters. I cried reading the last few chapters of All The Bright Places and I found it very hard to let go once it was over. So in my books, Jennifer Niven deserves a medal. The ending feels almost reverential, so much so that I had to put it down 20 pages from the end it in the Hereford Train Station Pumpkin Cafe because it just didn't seem to do it justice. For any book lover whose ever been hooked on a story, you know what a compliment that is. I felt as though I needed to be reading it in an empty wardrobe decked out in pillows while Lithium played in the background. I settled for a slightly more private seat on the train, but it still didn't stop me from crying. 

One of the strengths of All The Bright Places, for me personally, is its naturalness. From the romance to Finch's characterisation and the climax, nothing was sensationalised for effect. There are no over-the-top Twilight-esque love scenes or huge testaments of love, and for that reason this doesn't feel like a normal 'issues' book either. It feels real and true, for me at least. Another testament to Jennifer Niven's sensitivity. This book didn't 'help' me deal with my loss, not that it should have done either, but it touched me very deeply with its authenticity and honesty. 

And it is for this reason that I did the following: 

In Finch and Violet fashion, I'm leaving my copy behind. I am hoping someone will pick this up and enjoy it, maybe even be moved and helped by it. I would love to carry out more random book donation experiments like this in the future (working title for feature Stories for Strangers), so keep an eye out on trains, buses, in cafes... everywhere, for pre-loved books with hand-written notes from yours truly. 

Thank you for a beautiful book, Jennifer.