Looking Back: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My reading life has slowed a bit lately. With the stress of moving and other life stresses I just haven’t always found the time. I am slowly getting back to it, but I have also found myself looking back. Looking back at the books I’ve read, especially those that have meant something to me. As I try to get back into blogging and reading I feel like I want to take the time to discuss some of those books, maybe even reread them, just to remember what they mean, share with whoever wants to read my words, and maybe even talk about any differences in feelings.

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Lately, I’ve been really thinking about All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. The movie coming out this week on Netflix has definitely put it back on my radar, but so have people re-posting their reviews and talking about their thoughts. Unfortunately, I have not had the time to reread this book, but I have been going down the rabbit hole of research and even pulled up my past review from 2016 to kind of remind myself what hit me with this book.

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The truth is, I adored the book. I was gutted by the book. I do not think I can read that book again because I don’t think I can do that to my feelings again.

Before I go on, I should note that if you struggle with the topics of grief, suicide, or mental illness in any way…don’t read the book. Don’t watch the movie. Don’t read what I have to say or what anyone else has to say about it. You know yourself best. Only you know what you can and cannot handle. Another note, there will be spoilers. The book has been out for awhile, the movie is out soon, it is what it is. I don’t think I can talk about it at this point without spoilers.

If you don’t fully remember the book, the story follows Finch and Violet. Finch is struggling with what he calls black-outs and wants to die, to put it plainly. He is more than likely bipolar but is not officially diagnosed and is dealing with it on his own. Violet is deep in grief and depression as she lost her sister in a car accident not that long ago. The grief has consumed her life. Violet and Finch meet on the clock tower, and so begins their involvement in each other’s lives. They fall in love, they try to help one another, but…as you know…you can’t fix someone. You can only do so much. Life’s twists and turns have lead Finch back into his black outs and, eventually, to his death. My summary is a bit blunt, but it’s the basics of what I remember since typically my reviews are all about how a book makes me feel.

This book has been both highly praised and highly criticized, and I can see where everyone is coming from. But here is what I remember from reading it, and why I remember feeling it so hard…

  • This book dealt with a grief that is all consuming. Violet is coming to terms with everything, and dealing with how life goes on while everything has changed. I have read so much about grieving for those you have lost, but I think this was the first time that I had read something that showed the reality of everyone moving forward while you feel stuck. I finally felt like there was a new aspect of grief I could relate to, and I felt it hard with Violet. I have seen reviewers criticize this all consuming grief, and that makes me so sad…because it is how it can feel sometimes. I think this was my BIGGEST takeaway from the book and the reason that I fell for it so hard.
  • This book deal with mental illnesses, specifically someone who is undiagnosed with bi-polar disorder. At the time this hit me hard. Someone very close to me had been showing a lot of the same symptoms as Finch and it kind of freaked me out, but also glued me to the pages. This is one of the first times I had really read about someone who is working through this, and someone that isn’t getting help for it. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of mental illnesses and I think it helped me be more understanding with those in my life who were struggling. I know that not everyone agrees with how the mental illness aspect was handled, but I think that every single person is different and every illness, disorder, etc is different for every individual. It isn’t cut and dry. So you can think this portrayal is not accurate, but maybe to someone it is. I still think about Finch, and I still think about my feelings when I was reading it and try to use those feelings to be even more understanding to those that are struggling. I think this book was important in the way that it helped me see something I was overlooking.
  • This book also showed that not everyone understands and not everyone is helpful. I know that mental health awareness has come a long way since this book was published, but it still has a long way to go. There are always going to be people who aren’t accepting, who aren’t helpful, even though they are in the position to be some of the most helpful and influential people. While I feel like there had to have been someone in Finch’s life to help him out, I think that showing that it isn’t always the case was an interesting choice on the author’s part. I don’t think it’s right that people are so stand-offish when it comes to these situations, but I think it’s probably smart to know that it’s not always acceptance. It’s tough to see that, but it’s the reality for some people. Reality is harsh, but maybe this reality could help someone seek out help in different areas of their life.
  • This book showed that no matter what, you can’t fix someone. Again, this is tough to see especially given the relationship that Violent and Finch have. He shows her how great life can be, but in return she can’t seem to do the same for him. No matter what she does he constantly gets beaten down and back into his black-outs. One person doesn’t make that go away, one person can’t change everything. It’s such a harsh reality, but I think it’s important. I think that if Violet had saved Finch in any way then this book would have been received very differently and would have been a whole different kind of problematic. I think that maybe Violet could have fought harder to get him help, but who actually knows. I am a firm believer in showing tough realities. I think that while everyone should see that there is hope and good things ahead they also need to know that it’s work to get there. One person isn’t the magic solution. So while I wish in my heart this story had ended differently, I also know that this wasn’t that kind of story and we were meant to see the harsh realities and what happens when someone kills themselves even with someone in their life rooting for them.

So, after reading that you’re probably wondering why I still love this book and why I speak so highly of it. I like books that make me feel the deepest of emotions. If an author can make me sob from my gut, they’ve done their job. If they can make me laugh to point of tears and sore abs, they are amazing. This book had me gutted. This book opened my eyes to things right in front of my face in my own life and I honestly wish I had read it sooner.

I get why people say it’s problematic. I know we want those dealing with suicide to see hope, and I think there is still hope in this book. I think that we can see why Finch ended up going down the path that he did. I think we saw what people in his life did and didn’t do that pushed him towards that end. And I think that is INCREDIBLY important for everyone to be aware of and to think about.

I think that if you struggle with the topic of suicide, mental illness, any of those things…you shouldn’t read this book or any book that deals with these topics. And if you read this book then you should take everything with a grain of salt. This is just one interpretation, accurate or inaccurate. Use this book as an opportunity to look further into the topic, to dive deeper into what you can do to help those that are struggling. Use it as a learning opportunity and take what lessons you can from it.

I think this book is an excellent discussion starter. I think we can learn and grow from the wide variety of reactions to this book, and I think we can use it as way to inspire change in how mental health is handled in this world. I mean, while you can’t save someone you can still make a difference in their lives. And you can inspire others to do the same.

If you have read this book I gotta know, what did you think about it? What did you take from it? I want to use this as a positive way to start a discussion. I want a discussion to bring any awareness that can be brought, and I want to learn from others.

And please note, if you want to watch the movie please remember it’s not a romantic comedy. Netflix released a trailer that made it seem fun and cutesy, but it’s not. I don’t even want to link the trailer because it frustrates me a lot.

emily

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