All The Bright Places is about a girl, “who learns to live from a boy who intends to die”. It reminded me of the idea that everyone sits on the same “mental illness” line and we fluctuate up and down it – towards sanity and insanity – at various points in our lives, at times feeling fine and at others, a little more shaky (maybe it’s from the book Going Sane by Adam Phillips?). And so it is with Violet and Finch, two depressed teenagers, who meet each other on the bell tower of their school as both are considering jumping off. It’s reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down. Finch guides Violet off the ledge and saves her reputation at school by claiming she saved his life and not the other way around. In return, he takes the opportunity to make her his partner in a class project (he’s known as “Freak”, she’s the popular kid) and so this wonderful book begins.
It’s lovely and refreshing to read a male YA character where the author sidesteps all of the clichés; he’s not brooding, taciturn or beefy (well, just a little beefy) but three-dimensional, goofy and talkative. He has few friends. Both Violet and Finch are damaged and vulnerable but simultaneously endearing and normal. The mental illness is sympathetically done, without being worthy (in the same vein to Wintergirls, another great YA “issues” book) because most of the time, the emphasis isn’t on the symptoms but the causes of the characters’ depression; the shitty situations and/or people that they have had to deal with and how they both cope with not feeling “normal”.
It’s similar to some of John Green’s YA books (Paper Towns and The Fault In Our Stars) but I found it a lot less cloying and much more funny, even though I cried a lot. Whilst the main theme is death, this wonderfully written YA book is really a story about love and life.
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