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Saturday, January 16, 2016

All the Bright Places, written by Jennifer Niven. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $20.99 ages 14 and up

"He takes my hand and pulls me up
after him so that we're standing on
the stones. In that instant his skin
touches mine, I feel a little shock. I
tell myself it's nothing more than the
understandable jolt of actual physical
contact when you aren't used to it from
someone new. But then these electric
currents start shooting up my arm, and
he is rubbing my palm with his thumb ..."

I read this brilliant novel months ago, and it has taken some time for me to be able to tell you about it. I will never forget Violet and Finch.

Violet is not the same person she was before the accident that killed her older sister. No one would expect her to be; but withdrawing from her friends and school itself leaves her vulnerable, and aching.  Finch, on the other hand, is considered a loose cannon on the school campus. He is different ... unconventional and brash. His classmates call him Theodore Freak.

The two meet in the bell tower at their high school. It is difficult to know who saved who on that bell tower ledge. What we do know is that they have a very special connection right from that moment and the experiences they share are sure to make readers cry, then laugh, then cry again.

Finch wants only for Violet to feel something, to come back to being in and of the world. Together, they set out, as part of a school project, to visit unusual Indiana landmarks. As they get to know each other better, he remains persistent in making her life better. In alternating narratives, they share their story. Their voices are remarkable and make our connection to them real and memorable. Finch's suicidal thoughts are evident throughout his narration. His obsession with death, and his knowledge about suicide seems endless. Violet is shy, and brave, and comforting, and loyal to Finch.  While he assures Violet that he wants to help her, he is just as adamant that he is not an illness, and does not need to be fixed. Broken and hurting, the two find love and solace in each other.

Mental illness, its many labels and misunderstandings need to be considered in books for and about teenagers. In knowing as much as we can about its effects, its causes, and its treatment it will only be better for each one of us. This is a book that deals with great compassion for those who suffer with bipolar disorder. 

This is a book that will be compared to Eleanor and Park and to The Fault in Our Stars - deservedly so. But, it is a story that stands on its own for its unique and unforgettable teenagers and the love that they share. Emotional and heartbreaking, it is a book you don't want to miss reading.

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