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With it’s realistic and honest portrayal of someone living with a mental illness, “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven is one of the most moving and thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read. I finished reading it for maybe the third time a couple of nights ago and have been trying to gather my many thoughts about it ever since in hopes of doing justice to not only how beautifully written this story is, but also to how important it is because of the major issues that it highlights such as mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it, as well as teen suicide and bullying.  “All the Bright Places” is described to be a “a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, live lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.” There’s a lot of description and imagery in that partial sentence — parts of it you won’t understand until the end — but I will say this: I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more short and sweet but to the point description. “All the Bright Places” is gut-wrenching, eating you alive until the very last page, where you will then lose your composure, and cry- for hours. “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven is the first book that has ever made me go numb, that has actually made me feel something. I’ve never been shocked into numbness before, but this book absolutely took me to that spot — and it did so in an instant when you finally get to the end. After completing this book the first time I got it from a classmate, I couldn’t believe what had happened. I cried and cursed her for getting me so attached but I also thanked her for introducing this book to me because I instantly connected and related to it.Though the story wasn’t always bright, having to deal with the depression aspects occasionally, it was so worth the read because it shows light on a common issue many teenagers and even adults have today. The book tells the story of popular-girl Violet Markey and the so-called freak, Theodore Finch. As the story begins, Violet is dealing with the death of her older sister and Finch is simply trying to make it through the day without going to his dark place, or “going to sleep,” as he calls it. The pair meet in the most unlikely of places: On the school bell tower as they both contemplate jumping to their deaths. One of the high school seniors eventually saves the other, and the story takes off from there. Finch is aware of the fact that he’s different from everyone else, and his quiet confidence and assertiveness show that he simply doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He’s a downright likeable character and, at his core, a good guy who wants the world to be a happy and positive place. Take this excerpt, for example: “As I walk through the halls, there’s no telling what Bad British Finch might do. Take over the school, take over the town, take over the world. It will be a world of compassion, of neighbor loving neighbor, of student loving student or at least treating one another with respect. No judgements. No name-calling. No more, no more, no more.” Finch is a charming and inspirational character because his desire to live fully and to do good is constantly at war with his illness but he still manages to make everyone around him happy. I also loved that Niven makes Finch the voice for those who are afraid to seek help for mental illness because they fear being labeled as “mentally ill”. He’s such a likeable and relatable character that we as readers desperately want him to get the help he needs, but at the same time, he makes us see why it’s so hard to do so. Finch embodies the fear that if diagnosed, in the eyes of others, he will become that diagnosis and nothing more:  “Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of crappy parents and an even crappier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.”  Finch finds some peace when he’s with Violet. She helps him feel as lively as he possibly can whenever they’re together. Finch nearly embarrasses Violet by declaring he chooses her for a project that includes traveling their hometown. Violet accepts this proposal even if it does include eventually riding in a car and she even start fall for Finch and all his eccentricities. During their time together, Finch tries to help Violet overcome some of her biggest fears and help her to live again in the wake of the accident that killed her sister. The bulk of the novel focuses on the relationship between Violet and Finch as they work on this project and really get to know one another. Their journey together is an emotional roller coaster – it will make you laugh and it will bring you to tears, but what they find along the way is that they can draw strength from each other as they each battle their demons. Finch really pushes Violet to start working through her grief and seeing that her own life is worth living, and Violet helps Finch in that he can let his guard down around her and just be himself. As he focuses his attention on Violet, he becomes more and more determined not to let the ‘sleep’ take him again. While Finch helps Violet to escape her worries and fears, can Violet return the favor and help Finch stay out of his dark place?The story that unfolds deals with the difficult but very, very real issues associated with mental illness, forcing the reader to take stock of her attitudes toward depression and, if necessary, re-examine those attitudes. All the Bright Places raises questions for everyone after the first time they read it, and if you’re like me, it raises more and more after multiple times.I think what makes “All the Bright Places” such a powerful read is that by having Violet and Finch tell their story, Niven takes us directly into the minds of these two troubled teens. We experience firsthand exactly what Finch and Violet are feeling as they think about killing themselves and what goes through their minds as they struggle just to exist from day to day. We’re seeing what Finch and Violet have been trying so hard to hide from their parents, friends, teachers, and counselors. It’s raw and unfiltered emotion and it will definitely make you think twice when you look at someone and assume that you know what they’re going through when you really have no idea what’s going on in their head or how much they might be struggling even though they’re trying to put on a brave face. It’s painful, but it’s honest and raw and it causes the reader to feel, and feel deeply. For me, that’s the mark of a great story. There aren’t a whole lot of books that truly cut me to the core the way “All the Bright Places” did, and this is one that will absolutely go on my “remember forever” list. I simply will not forget the details of this story. I’m not going to lie to you, this book snuck up on me. I wasn’t prepared for how much this story would affect me, the pain I felt while reading the final chapters was almost physical. It weighed down on me, making it harder to breathe… It was excruciating. It reminded me of all the people I’ve lost to depression this far in my life. Don’t skip this one. You won’t find many books that explore real life as issues as in depth as “All the Bright Places”. It makes you feel and explore things you probably never thought you would understand “All the Bright Places” is such an important book because it shines light on the very problematic issue that a person would contemplate suicide rather than seeking medical help for mental illness. That should not be the case at all and it’s something we as a society, starting with us  young people, need to address. 

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