Atop their school’s bell tower, the notorious freak (so termed by his peers) Theodore Finch rescues Violet Markey who has frozen on the ledge from thinking about what it would be like to jump off the bell tower. Once Violet is safe, however, the school gathers and it is Violet who Finch lets get credited as a hero for talking the unpredictable, violent Finch from his latest stunt. In an assigned class project, Finch volunteers to partner with Violet where they must visit natural wonders of their state of Indiana and write about their experiences. Finch has another idea though and makes the assignment more about wandering, life, and finding the unexpected and under-appreciated areas of their state.
Pre-Finch Violet is still suffering the effects of her sister Eleanor’s unexpected death in a car accident nine months before, and everyone keeps giving her excuses or “extenuating circumstances” for not being normal. She does nothing besides go to school and go home. She doesn’t write, and before Eleanor’s death, she and Eleanor used to be well-known for their website EleanorandViolet.com with its conflicting opinions on boys, fashion, life etc.
On the other hand, Finch is the eldest boy in his broken family who lives with his exhausted and downtrodden mother; an older sister Kate who has terrible luck with boys, secretly smokes, and pretends to be Finch’s mother; and younger sister Decca who is also troubled but only eight. His father who also has anger, physical and alcohol abuse issues, recently divorced from his mother and has a new family, a wife with a bright house and her son Josh Raymond (who may or may not actually be Finch’s half-brother). Most of his father’s wrath used to be directed towards Finch who seems to be a constant disappointment. Add in his issues at school with violence and bullying and limited number of friends, and Finch with his episodes of mental illness (that is later revealed to be bipolar disorder).
When Finch and Violet start working on their project, Violet discovers the real Finch, a curious, hopeful, and gregarious boy who loves music and poetry and finding beauty in the world. Slowly, they fall in love, and Violet’s relationship with Finch puts her in compromising positions with her family and friends. As Violet’s world opens once more because of Finch’s influence, Finch’s struggle grows harder as his love for Violet becomes his only hope and yet a heavier burden. Two broken and unforgettable teens forge a deep connection in love and loss that leads them both to brighter places.
I listened to this on audio and the audiobook was fantastic! So, if you can’t read it in print, know that the audiobook narrators give a real teen voice to Violet and Theo and are energetic, fun, and truthful to the characters. I will find this book hard to recommend to most readers, but it is beautifully written and the characters will stay with you. Jennifer Niven writes with a gentle but persuasive and real touch about the heavy topics of death, suicide, and mental illness. This is a book like Thirteen Reasons Why or The Messenger I would suggest for teens to read because it’s a book that is meaningful and real but ugly, messy, and carries a message about life that will stay with them when they witness or live through bad experiences in their own lives. It’s a book to read if you’ve faced or been affected by mental illness, suicide, death/grief, or abuse. And please don’t think this book is terribly depressing. Just like life there are highs and lows and this deals with them so honestly…there is hope because just like Theodore Finch finds — the bright places (or the smallest things) can give you hope during the darkness.
To make your own bright places like Finch and Violet, make a post-it wall of everything that makes you happy or hopeful or you think is beautiful. Share your post-it wall on Twitter or Instagram with #allthebrightplaces. If you need help/are suffering a crisis, here are some resources that are readily available to help you. The first step is admitting that something might be wrong. If you want to learn more about mental health or helping others in crisis, go here. And remember, you are not alone. There is always someone who will miss you.