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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.

 

Book 31/100: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

This is one of those books that inspires complicated feelings. Is it possible to write a book about teens and suicide that doesn't inspire complicated feelings? I've certainly never read one -- but it's something writers need to keep writing about, and that we need to keep talking about.

My biggest qualm with YA suicide books is that I always fear they run the risk of romanticizing the issue, and that is particularly true when the suicide is contextualized within a romantic relationship as it is here. And so what made me most uncomfortable about this book was that Finch and Violet's suicide attempt in the same place on the same day was essentially reduced to a "meet-cute" (this isn't a spoiler, it's the opening chapter.) And the road-trippy aspects of the story also made the whole thing seem kind of fun and sweet and exciting rather than truly harrowing. The book didn't make me cry, which considering the subject matter seems like a bit of a fail.

At the same time, the things that I can be most critical about in this book can also be interpreted as some of its greatest strengths. Dealing with mental illness does not mean your entire existence is bleak, or that there aren't moments of beauty and adventure and wonder. It doesn't mean that life doesn't continue to unfold around you. I thought that Niven handled Finch's mental illness in a way that was believable and nuanced. I was less impressed by her depiction of Violet. Violet was damaged in her own way, still grieving the loss of her sister, but I kept feeling distracted by the fact that her parents didn't seem to be grieving along with her. In some ways they seemed too "perfect" and "together" for parents who had gone through the tragedy of losing a child, but at the same time it was nice to see some responsible, competent adults in a YA book.

My book club spent a lot of time dissecting how things could have been different if this or that circumstance might have been changed, and although the book loses points for not tugging at my heartstrings the way it maybe should have, it gets those points back again by being the kind of book you keep chewing on for quite a while after the final page has been read.