This book was not what I expected – I went into it hoping for a break from some of the heavier adult novels I’d been reading, expecting a light, fluffy contemporary YA read. And, while it was light in the fact that I got through the novel quickly, this book deals with some very serious subject matter, and took me on a much more emotional journey than I’d anticipated.
It’s the story of Violet Markey and Theodore Finch, two troubled teens who meet on the ledge of their school’s bell tower. Violet is grieving the loss of her sister, Eleanor, in a car accident a few months before, and Finch is plagued by mental illness and regularly thinks about ending it all. It’s unclear who saves whom from the jump, but once they come down the two forge a bond from their near-death experience, and go onto embark on a school project together which will bring them closer.
Let’s get some things out the way first. I know this book has received a huge amount of love, but to me it wasn’t flawless. I had trouble with some of the character development – particularly how Finch was supposed to be hated and branded a ‘freak’ at school and yet had a solid group of friends and seemed to have a lot of luck with the ladies. Some of the more minor characters felt very stereotypical and pigeonholed into their roles – the school bully, the prom queen, even the abusive father were not really developed enough for me to understand their motivations. I struggled with Violet too, as she felt a little too perfect, despite her grief. But I fell completely for Finch and his story as the book progressed.
The book covers some heavy issues – mental illness and suicide – and I know some reviewers were disappointed with how they were dealt with. I personally am lucky enough to have very little knowledge on these issues, so I can’t really comment on how realistically things were portrayed, but I do know that the story opened my eyes, and made me consider things in a different way. Despite their odd names and quirky habits, Violet and Finch could all too easily be a real teenage couple today, struggling with mental illness and grief, unsure where to turn to for help. This book made me consider the internal struggle which goes on within some people’s minds, which we never necessarily see from the outside.
“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”
Minor qualms aside, I’m sure this book will resonate with a lot of people. The writing is beautiful, insightful and a sheer joy to read, with so many quotes and vignettes which celebrate the importance of appreciating the little things in life; those bright places. “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” As part of their school US. Geography project, Violet and Finch go ‘wandering’ – exploring notable locations in the state of Indiana where they live – providing ample opportunity for romantic moments, new experiences and encouraging the main characters to look at a place they had known all their lives in a new way.
It’s so easy to sometimes feel defeated by the mundanity of everyday life, but this book makes you stop and think about what’s important. I wouldn’t say it changed me, but it gave me a new insight, and helped me look at things in a new way. And you can’t really ask for much more from a book.