The friendship between Finch, a witty, bipolar misfit, and Violet, a depressed, popular girl, begins on the school bell tower where Finch talks Violet out of jumping, even though he often contemplates jumping himself. This is All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, the young adult novel being compared to Eleanor & Park and The Fault in Our Stars.
I don’t know if this lives up to the romance in those titans, but it is a good look at grief and bipolar disorder through the eyes of these teenagers.
Finch is in the beginning of what he calls his awake time, because for the past many months it’s like he’s been blacked out, but now he’s back and as charming as ever. I was smitten with him by the end of the first chapter. He’s quick-witted, cheeky, and seemed to be totally likeable.
Violet is steeped in grief, and probably PTSD, after being in a car crash that took her older sister. Since the accident she’s backed away from her friends, stopped writing, and refused to get in a car. She’s not as charmed with Finch as I was by chapter one, but it doesn’t take long for Finch to inch his way into her life.
I think part of the reason I don’t find the romance between these two to be very strong is that Finch falls in love instantly, for no real reason, and he becomes kind of a creeper. He shows up where Violet doesn’t want him, goes to her house unannounced, and embarrasses her in class. I wasn’t smitten with Finch after those shenanigans, but Violet was? What it turns into here is kind a cliche: the dark, damaged girl needing someone to pull her back into the light using unconventional methods, but it didn’t feel quite real for me. There wasn’t enough character development with Violet for me to buy that this would make her fall in love with Finch instead of slap him upside the head.
But this wasn’t about the romance for me. This was an unflinching, hard-to-understand, honest look at depression and mental illness. Violet’s grief and survivor’s remorse made her so relatable and it hurt to follow her through it. Finch’s bright times are glorious and his down times are brutal. It’s one of the best looks at bipolar disorder I’ve ever read. And there are no answers here. There is no soap box. There is no agenda. This is just a great view into the lives of these teens and it broke my heart, but not for the romance. I could take or leave the romance, but their friendship and struggles won me over.