Author: Jennifer Niven
Point of View: First Person & Dual
Publishing Date: January 6, 2015
“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.”
Disclaimers: I have not experienced depression myself, though people close to me have. I am a psychology student, which has given me more insight into mental illness in general. However, I do not claim to know everything about mental illness and I know that everyone has a different experience with it.
When I give a book a 1-star rating it means it could barely get through it or find it problematic, in this case it’s the latter. I rate my books based on how much they met my expectations, not how ‘good’ they are. I do this because I think good/bad ratings highly depend on what you want from a book and are therefore subjective. In my reviews, I explain why a book did or didn’t meet my expectations and try to specify which people might like or dislike it. You can find more information about how I rate books here.
Expectations & wishes
Going into this book I was hoping for a book that accurately and respectfully represents and raises awareness about depression. I was hoping the romance aspect would not get in the way of this and that it would add a different touch to the story.
What I Liked
We’ll start with something positive because there is a whole bunch of negative about to come your way. I think Jennifer Niven’s writing is good. The book was fast paced and the story flowed nicely. The writing pulls you in and makes you want to keep reading. This makes it one of those books you could easily read in one sitting.
What I didn’t like
My main issue with this book was that it made me feel like mental illness was used as a plot device. It was used as a foundation to build a romance. This rather than it actually being a book about depression, really discussing the experiences and feelings of the characters. I think the author used mental illness as a tool to make us readers sympathize with the characters. I feel this way because the mental illness aspect was barely explored. In the beginning of the book, it is established that both main characters are dealing with depression. A little further in, we get some background stories which kinda reveals the factors that contributed to them developing depression. That was as deep into the subject as it really went. The rest of the book was just about the romance that was developing between the characters. The romance was being used as a tool to make the characters ‘feel better’. It’s like saying “Aww… look how so sad they are… now they are together… look they feel much better now”. For this reason, it feels like this book doesn’t treat depression like a real issue. It just uses it to evoke an emotional reaction.
Another part is that got on my nerves was that we never got to actually know the main characters. All we got to see is that they have a mental illness. Just this label. Where is their personality? Where are their thoughts about anything other than each other? What I’m trying to say is: all we got was two characters labeled with a mental illness who fall in love and are ‘cute together’. I just don’t think that’s enough.
Another issue I had with it is the fact that the parents in this book are pretty much absent and very unconcerned. Sure, some parents just suck at being there for their kids. But how realistic is it that we have two teenagers who are struggling with depression and are clearly expressing it to their environment (especially Finch) but nobody is helping them. Nobody is taking any responsibility. How?!
Lastly, something personal to me. Psychologist (or any type of guidance counselor) were portrayed as unuseful. I get that not all professional help is actually helpful, things can go wrong. And sure, lot’s of people who struggle with mental illness never even get noticed by professionals. All true. The thing that made me angry was that there is actually a school psychologist/guidance counselor in this book, but he was used in a very harmful way. The attitude of the only ‘professional’ in this book was: “hey, it would be best if you would get better. But if you are going to kill yourself anyway, could you please not do it anywhere near this school? I’m responsible for what happens here.”. I just can’t wrap my mind around how this is the one and only representation of professional help in this book. This paints a picture that no one can help you if you are going through depression. Not a message I support.
Overall feelings & Recommending it
The thing is, had I picked this up hoping to read a ‘cute’ romance and had I not cared as much about the mental illness representation, I would have probably at least liked All the Bright Places. But I didn’t pick it up for that reason. My main hope was that it would offer some real insight into depression. In my opinion, it didn’t. I feel like it used mental illness as a plot device, not treating it as a real issue. Which I think is very problematic. For this reason, I could not give it a higher rating and would not recommend it.