Sunday, August 28, 2016

"All the Bright Places" by Jennifer Niven


Rating: 4/5 stars

I read this book in one day, and I can't say that was the best choice as I was left with strong emotions to sort out right before going to bed. This book, though, NEEDED to happen because mental health NEEDS to be talked about, and I applaud Niven for tackling the hard issues of suicide and bipolar disorder.

Initially, I didn't find Finch that believable. He joked around a lot, seemed to have a pretty good life, but thought about ways to die with an unhealthy obsession. I had a hard time believing his struggle because it seemed kind of like an act, which I realize now proves the author's point entirely: mental illness is an issue that goes unnoticed by many, even by those closest to the victim. Once Finch started pulling into himself again, I understood what was going on, and like Violet and her family, I was angered that the people closest to him did not seem to see a need for intervention in his life, but rather dismissed it by saying he'd always been like that.

I loved that this story paints a picture of a person with a mental illness in a positive light and works towards removing the stigma associated with that. Finch was intelligent, creative, loving, imaginative, smart, and articulate, but his mind had unhealthy habits that needed to be addressed. He encouraged Violet to live a full life and seize each moment, even though he couldn't do the same:

 "The problem with people is they forget that most of the time, it's the small things that count. Everyone's so busy waiting in the waiting place." (quote from Finch)

Finch needed to know he was not alone and that he could talk to those who mattered to him, but unfortunately that did not happen in time.

I also love that this story doesn't paint death or choosing to die in some strange, positive light. I had this fear when I first started reading that the author might somehow glorify Finch's decision to end his life, but that is not what happened at all. She showed the devastating effects of someone near to a suicide victim struggling with the loss, anger, guilt, and sorrow. The pain of surviving after the death of a suicide victim is real, just as the pain of the one lost to suicide is real.

This book is hard, but it's necessary. Niven adds some personal notes and resources at the end of the book to help anyone struggling with mental illness. I pray that books like this and the conversation around mental illness will remove the stigma and plant hope in the lives of many.

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