Theodore Finch is a troublemaker. He is unpredictable and does things that no one understands, like hurl a chair against the chalkboard, then disappear for days on end. Violet Markey is the popular girl who everyone likes. She is a model student and is on track to apply for the top universities. Except, after Violet’s sister’s tragic death, Violet realizes that no one understands her. She finds herself on the bell tower at school, where she meets Finch.
Together, Violet and Finch work on a geography project where they travel the wonders of the Indiana State. As they get to know each other, Violet learns to deal with her sister’s death and finds joy in doing what she loves. However, as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s world begins to shrink.
Young Adult / 378 pages
Note: I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and I have never read the print edition. This may have influenced my opinion of the book. For example, I was not fond of Violet’s voice, it grated my ears for the entire 11 hours. I would not recommend the audiobook to anyone. Despite this, I will try my best to evaluate the content of the book separately.
I love that this book speaks honestly and boldly about the topic of mental illness and suicide. It touches on the idea of labels and stigma, which prevent teens and adults who have mental illness from seeking treatment. I believe that stories like this help spread awareness about mental illness, and that with more awareness, there will be fewer barriers for people to seek help. Also, perhaps people who do have such conditions will read this book and feel less alone. I am glad to see that this book is translated into many languages, won awards, and will be adapted into a movie.
Theodore Finch is a intriguing and complex character. He is quirky and has a sense of humour. He loves music and is gifted at playing the guitar and composing his own songs. However, he hides a secret from his friends and his family, and that is his mental illness. He can’t quite control his outbursts and periods of time when he is just “asleep.” Instead, he tries to make it appear to everyone that he chooses to be that way, and everyone accepts him as he is. Finch is a character that makes us want to keep reading.
On the other hand, I was not in love with the other characters, including Violet. Violet strikes me as whiney, and it took me a while to warm up to her personality. I am glad to see her grow as the book unravels. I am less impressed with the supporting characters, who don’t quite develop beyond their stereotypes. This includes Violet and Finch’s classmates and the adults. I feel that there is potential in some of the characters, such as Amanda (Violet’s ex-best friend) and Violet’s mother and father, but there just aren’t enough pages dedicated to developing their characters.
This is a slow-paced book. In general, I have no qualms about slow pacing itself, because sometimes it is needed to fully develop a relationship, or to portray the growth in a character over time. However, in All the Bright Places, I get the sense that there were scenes that served no purpose. I feel that the story dragged until about the last 10%.
Despite this, All the Bright Places leaves a haunting message. Coming to the last few minutes of the book, I find myself thinking: what about the troublemakers and drop-outs that I had known from school? Perhaps they have a story of their own. And I believe that this is what makes a good story – the ability to leave you thinking.
All the Bright Places speaks boldly about the topic of teenage mental health and suicide without holding back. We see a glimpse of the world through the Finch’s points of view, which is quirky and one-of-a-kind. Despite the slow pace, and the other, less-interesting, characters, this book may be a worthwhile read if you enjoy reading about mental health.