Amateur Book & Movie Review: “All The Bright Places,” By Jennifer Niven

“The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

-Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

Trigger Warning!! Spoiler Warning!!

Book Review

“All the Bright Places,” by Jennifer Niven follows the story of Violet Markey as she struggles to come to terms with the death of her older sister. As the one year anniversary of her sister’s death approaches, Violet somehow finds herself standing on the ledge of the bell tower at her high school. She is six stories up, and is frozen between jumping off and stepping back to safety. It is here that she meets Theodore Finch, a social outcast with a love for adventure and an obsession with death. It is unclear who saves who on the bell tower ledge, but when the two are later paired up for a school project that requires them to wander their state before graduation, Violet can slowly feel herself beginning to heal. However, as Violet heals from her past traumas, Finch struggles with a mental illness that always seems to get the best of him. As Violet begins to move forward, Finch finds himself falling behind.

I truly enjoyed this book, though it is definitely a tear jerker. The only thing that I found irritating about this book, was the fact that both Violet and Finch’s characters seemed way more intelligent and worldly than the average American teenager. I feel that a lot of books and movies tend to characterize teen leads, especially females, as being somehow both bookish and popular with the vocabulary and literary taste of a college student. I don’t know about you guys, but I was dumb as s*** when I was a teen in more ways than one. If you have ever been to an American high school, I think that you would agree that most teens aren’t quite as bookish and well studied as Violet and Finch.

All of that aside, I think that Niven did a great job developing both lead characters. With Violet, I think that Niven was able to truly capture what it is like to mourn such a deep loss at such a young age. Violet blames herself for what happened to her sister. She pulls away from her old friends and seems to use her sisters death as an excuse to pull away from her life all together. When Violet first finds herself standing on the ledge of the bell tower, it seems that she isn’t really suicidal. However, she is struggling with so much guilt and grief that she doesn’t know what else to do about it. Because she is in such a low place at the beginning of the book, I think that Finch really was the perfect person to help pull her out of her funk. As someone who struggles with mental health issues, Finch understood what Violet was going through. He also understood how important it was to embrace the positive aspects of life whenever you can. I was intrigued by the fact that, because Violet and her sister had hosted a website together, Violet pulled away from writing after her sisters death. Though I haven’t experienced loss in the same way that Violet did, I can understand what it is like to connect one of your passions to someone you love to the point that you don’t want to engage in that passion if the other person isn’t a part of it. I really loved getting to read about Violet as she found her own voice and returned to her passion (writing).

Finch’s character was probably my favorite element of this book. In the beginning, he is definitely a spontaneous and interesting guy. He changes up his style every day, as if he hasn’t decided who he wants to be yet. Towards the end of the book, we learn that Finch is suffering from Bipolar Disorder that he likely inherited from his father. However, before this is revealed, readers are forced to feel his ping pong emotions as he struggles to keep himself from falling into a manic or depressive state. When he is at his best, Finch is adventitious, romantic, and quirky. However, we see these qualities start blur as the effects of his illness push their way to the forefront. His usual temperament is replaced by mania, like painting his room blue, getting into fights at school, and parking his car on the side of the road so he could run miles to get flowers for Violet instead of simply driving there. As he feels himself getting bad again, he starts to isolate himself from everyone, confining himself to his closet. He also becomes agitated, defensive, and reactive. In addition to suffering from a mental illness, Finch is bullied at school and is struggling to reconcile with his father, who beats him and left his mother to go start another family with someone else. Finch tries to reach out for help but he doesn’t seem to want to bother anyone with his problems. Ultimately he decides to end his own life.

I really appreciated that in this book, Violet tried to tell her parents what was going on with Finch as soon as she realized that he might need help. Too often people remain silent about these types of things when we should really be speaking out about them and trying to help one another. When Finch goes to a support group, he runs into one of the popular girls from his school who had always bullied him. She confessed to being a bulimic and to trying to kill herself. This just helped to show that even the people you least expect could be suffering from mental health issues.

The plot of this book was amazing. I loved that Violet and Finch were able to grow close to one another by traveling to all of these interesting and obscure places in Indiana. They always made sure to leave something behind everywhere they went. I thought that this was significant because it made me think of all of the things we leave behind when we die and how important those things are. Their travel locations almost served as a road map to Violet’s recovery and to Finch’s down fall. As previously mentioned, I think that the author did a great job of showing how hard Finch tried to keep himself together for Violet before ultimately slipping into a depressive episode. Through each location they visited, we could see Violet get better and Finch get worse. Though it fit in perfectly with the story, I thought that the way Finch chose to kill himself was a bit odd. I won’t give the method of suicide away for anyone who may be interested in reading the book. Lastly, I loved that because Finch and Violet were unable to complete their project together after the suicide, there were several destinations left on their map for Violet to go to alone. Each destination helped her to come to terms with Finch’s suicide as she found the things that Finch left behind for her at each location. I only wish that the book would have included Violet finally presenting the project to all of the kids that had bullied Finch.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Up Next: “Normal,” by Graeme Cameron 🔪

Movie Review

I am always torn when it comes to book to movie adaptations. I know that if I read the book first, I will almost definitely be disappointed in the movie. However, I know that if I watch the movie first, I’m not going to want to take the time to read the book because I will already know what’s going to happen. As usual, I decided to read the book first this time, and as I thought, this caused the movie to be kind of a let down for me. HOWEVER, I feel that this movie is good in it’s own right and is definitely worth a watch.

I felt that Elle Fanning and Justice Smith did a great job or portraying Violet and Finch. Elle is the perfect Violet, and I really don’t have anything bad to say about her performance. She did a great job. I was a bit shocked by the casting for Finch at first, but I’m not mad at it lol. I appreciated that a man of color was chosen to play Finch, because mental health issues often go unaddressed and untreated in the black community. Justice did a great job of embodying the character, and he truly conveyed the struggles and hardships of living life with a mental illness. My only issue with the casting of Finch and Violet is that I didn’t feel as much chemistry between these two as I wanted to. I think that they both did a great job with their characters, but I personally feel that they were missing that spark between them that Violet and Finch undoubtable had in the book.

I was disappointed to see that several characters were left out of this movie adaptation, including Finch’s little sister Deca. Additionally, neither of Finch’s parents were shown in this movie until the end at Finch’s funeral. Supposedly, his father was completely out of the picture and his mother was gone for long periods of time on business. I didn’t feel that the movie made the “popular” kids seem as popular and hateful as they were in the book. I was disappointed about this because being bulllied at school and abused by his father were a big part of Finch’s story.

Like most book to film adaptations, the filmmakers had to trim and cut a lot of things out. Many things from the book were mixed up and changed around, some parts were even missing all together. Instead of meeting at the top of the bell tower where they were both planning to jump, Finch meets Violet on the bridge where her sister died while he was jogging. The entire ending of the book was cut from the movie, which included Violet going to the unfinished travel locations on the map that Finch had left behind for her.

My biggest issue with the movie, is that it cut out so many of Finch’s manic behaviors that helped to foreshadow the reveal that he was suffering with Bipolar Disorder. In fact, I don’t remember the movie ever mentioning the exact mental health condition that Finch was struggling with. In the movie, Finch is only shown painting a small wall in his room and he never fully moves into his closet as he did in the book. Though he gets Violet flowers, the movie never shows him parking his car and running miles to get them.

As I said before, this movie is worth the watch, but prepare for a lot of things to be mixed up and missing. If like me you read the book first, try to put the book out of your mind and appreciate the movie as it’s own thing.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Have you ever read this book? What did you think of it? What did you think of the movie? Would you like to recommend a book for me to read? I would love to her from you in the comment section below. If you enjoyed this post, please like, comment, and follow.

Love Always, AnxiouslyM

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