I love reading books more than anything else, I always have. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people’s shocked reaction when I tell them that I haven’t watched a particularly famous movie because I was too busy burying my head in a brand new novel. Growing up, reading books was what I enjoyed most. I remember my parents being so proud when at 10-years-old, I would be reading books from my older brother’s bookshelf.
The Young Adult genre has always held my interest, and it’s what I still read to this day. There’s just something so satisfying about all those sappy, happy novels. They make me feel good and grant solace from everyday life.
So when I picked up All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven after Zoella did a recommendation video about it, I was so excited to pick it up. It’s not very often that I come across literature discussing mental health and after listening to Zoe describe the novel, I looked forward to reading it.
I have to say, I went in with a very cautious mindset. I’d read books dealing with mental health before, and it was always very cliched. Girl meets boy, one or both of them has a mental illness, throughout the novel they work together, and at the end, the person is magically cured.
Those that have suffered from mental illnesses in real life know that that’s not exactly how it goes; it’s never that simple.
A spoiler-free gist of the book, for those who haven’t read it, can be summed up by its tagline: it’s a story about a girl that learns to live, from a boy who wants to die.
Violet, the girl, suffers from a deep sense of loss after the death of her sister, Eleanor, whereas Finch, the boy, suffers from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. They team up together for a school project exploring the “natural wonders” of their state of Indiana.
When I started reading the book, I was immediately immersed into the very bleak world of Violet and Finch. I felt as if I was them; I lived these characters and their experiences. The world that Niven built within the book is so real and so raw, there were so many times when I had to put it down because of how deeply I felt the characters’ emotions.
The story deals with themes of loss and mental health so well and so realistically. At no point did I feel that the situation or characters were exaggerated to the point where they seemed unbelievable to someone who has had experiences with mental illness.
As someone who suffers from depression, I felt every emotion Finch felt, and I can unashamedly admit that I cried multiple times throughout the book. Its understanding of mental illness is so well-researched that it is drastically different from others of the same genre. ATBP offers a completely different perspective on mental health issues, and how people deal with it in their own way.
The story is raw and heartbreaking. I have never identified with a character more than I did with Finch. His thoughts and morbid fascination with death were something that horrified me in the beginning. But as I got to know Finch more, I realized that at one point or another, many of us have felt this way. His willingness to hold on to something, anything, to keep him going is what stuck with me till the very end.
Finch struggles every day, but so does Violet; this is where the uncanny “love story” comes in. There are several instances where the thought of Violet is what keeps Finch going, and to me, that is poetic.
However, what’s worth noting is that this love story is not the driving force of the novel. Rather, it is just a side story; the main focus of the book is mental illness, and that’s a rare commodity in the world of literature.
We definitely need more novels that tackle mental health in such a delicate yet raw way as ATBP has done. A movie adaptation starring Elle Fanning will be released soon, and I for one, have high hopes for it to pave the way for discussion of mental health in Hollywood movies.
It’s time for society to create more open, honest conversation about mental health.