Tag Archives: Jennifer Niven

The Dark Side of Life / The Bright Side of Death

it's what you leave

“’Ladies and gentlemen,’ I shout, ‘I would like to welcome you to my death!’ You might expect me to say ‘life,’ having just woken up and all, but it’s only when I’m awake that I think about dying.”

Theodore Finch – horribly nicknamed ‘Theodore Freak’ by his awful classmates – is actually a pretty awesome guy. He’s charming, spontaneous, kind, and clearly bipolar. He begins his narrative by discussing being “asleep” – his time of depression, which seems to have passed… for now. He is now Awake, and keeps track of these days, as he is aware of how fleeting they can be… he is fighting his hardest not to be overtaken by the “Asleep” again.

As Finch contemplates what jumping off the school’s tower might feel and look like, he notices Violet Markey at a ledge as well – she’s popular, pretty, and scared at this great height. Violet lost her older sister Eleanor in a car accident almost a year ago. She feels overtaken by the “extenuating circumstances” of her life these days… nothing feels normal… nothing is normal… and now she’s shivering on a ledge six flights above the ground. Fortunately, Finch is there to talk her down and save her from herself. But who’d believe Theodore Freak talked the beautiful Violet Markey out of killing herself, and not the other way around? Yet, Finch is the kind of person who allows that kind of gossipy misconception to spread, so as to protect Violet’s reputation and her own feelings… after all, “This is my secret – that any moment I might fly away.” … and then nothing will matter anyway.

But so long as Finch is awake, and Violet needs someone to keep an eye on her, he is determined to stay awake, to put off death another day. “Is today a good day to die?” … Not if he can help it, and we sure do hope he can.

After many attempts to get her attention once again, and finally forcing Violet to be his partner for a Geography project via public peer pressure/mild humiliation, Finch determines to show Violet the great state of Indiana and all the quirky places they can discover and experience together. It is this journey that brings them closer together, gets her to ride in a car again, and allows them to discover all that life has to offer. It is enough to make Violet appreciate her life—her words, which were once gone, have come back in a new way, and she begins to write once more. Though still fraught with survivor’s guilt, she can see just what a wonderfully captivating guy Finch truly is… no matter what others at school might say about him. She falls for him, and looks forward to their wonderings, making sure to always leave something behind, for posterity’s sake.

They explore the highest point in Indiana, Hoosier Hill—1,257 feet above sea level— a field of retired bookmobiles, the Purina Tower, homemade roller coasters, and Indiana’s very own blue hole in a lake. Visiting these places with Finch gives Violet a reason to rediscover how amazing life can be again – but with darkness descending upon Finch, is it enough to keep him from trying not to die?

He says, “It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting.” He may be the mildly neglected broken boy from a broken home, but on the outside, he is just Finch – likely to have a violent fit, throw desks at school, go wondering for days, and sweep a girl off her feet – but there is nothing visibly wrong with him… then again, who’s really looking? It becomes painfully obvious that he is fighting a losing a battle, one he cannot possibly overcome on his own… but Finch is not one to be labeled, medicated, or made to feel any less than who he is. He does not want help. He cannot be helped.

“Cesare Pavese, believer in the Great Manifesto, wrote, ’We do not remember days, we remember moments.” Finch and Violet share many days… many firsts… many wonders. They have their moments…

Heartbreaking at it all is, Jennifer Niven reminds us in All The Bright Places that in the end, “The thing I realize is that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

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Filed under Book Review, Young Adult