All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is about teenagers Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, who become friends after a roof incident where it’s not certain who saves whom from jumping. During a school project to discover the wonders of their hometown, Finch and Violet discover the wonders in life, death, and each other.
Next to Nazi fiction, I love to read about depression. Niven was able to capture the anger and confusion that comes in being an adolescent, as well as the emptiness and pain in suffering from mental illnesses. Another big plus is all the references to Virginia Woolf, a woman who strings together some of the most beautiful phrases I have ever read.
I am rooted, but I flow. All gold, flowing …
But this book was just so, so sad (spoilers ahead).
You have been in every way all that anyone could be.… If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.
I mean c’mon, poor Ultraviolet Remarkey-able! She grieves from her sister’s death and suffers from survivors’ guilt; now she has to deal with Finch’s death and the regret of not being able to save him either. How much can this poor girl take?
It’s one thing to blame herself for a car accident that she had little control over, it’s another thing to blame herself on how she couldn’t save the boy who taught her how to live again. How do you get over losing someone you love like that? Violet was the only one close enough to Finch to see his pain – maybe not understand it, but she could definitely see it. And to be honest, Violet was really the only source that could’ve helped Finch, a boy who had little to no support in dealing with depression, bipolar disorder, and abuse.
And to have Violet discover Finch’s dead body in one of their “lovely” places… my goodness, Nisen is a savage.
It’s an Illness
It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.
Depression is a mental illness. It’s not a scratch on a knee that a band-aid can fix, or the chicken pox, or any kind of sickness that can be seen on the outside. It manifests from the inside and when you are an outsider, there are many limits to what you can do to help.
At times I felt as if Nisen designed depression up to be some quirky indie personality trait, but overall, it was not too bad. This novel does a good job of raising awareness for mental illness and the lack of support and understanding people have of depression.
You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.
All the Bright Places show us a slow-paced Romeo & Juliet in modern hipster times (like Eleanor & Park). But when there is brightness, there is always darkness. And while readers could definitely grasp a firm understanding of all the bright places love and life takes us, it is not as easy to comprehend the confusing abyss of depression and death.
This is the thing when people leave. You always feel like you could’ve done better. You should’ve told them “this”, you should’ve helped them with “that”, you should’ve spent more time with them and cherished them more. All this guilt is amplified when it’s a suicide because this person was that unhappy. They were that depressed that they took their own lives. And you were a part of that life- a life they chose to rather not live.
We must remember that someone can care about us – love us, even – but have it not be enough to save them. That doesn’t make you or them or the places they’ve showed you any less bright or lovely.