Synopsis: An exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches for—and manages to find—something to keep him here, and alive, and awake. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school—six stories above the ground—it’s unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising—just like life. Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.
This book was one that was constantly brought to my attention every time I seemed to completely forget about it, so in the end I finally decided to read it.
I have never been too keen on the book being advertised as the next The Fault in Our Stars, not because I have something with John Green, but because it ultimately uses the novel’s senstive subject matter of mental illness as a way of promoting the story, thus risking turining it into a sensational topic. But the general consensus among those who have read it is that it is worthwile, so I decided to look beyond what is, in my opinion, a questionable marketing strategy.
The novel has a very strong, gripping opening – the first line really sticks with you. It is a bit clichéic for me, but it did make me want to read on, even if only for the sake of seeing if the clichés continue. As the synopsis says, the book opens with the main characters meeting on the bell tower of their high school, which throws the reader right in the thick of the action.
The story follows Violet and Theodore Finch, who take turns being narrators, and who are both in a really bad place when we first meet them on that bell tower. The friendship that unfolds between them shows readers how two very different people can come together in the best of ways, even if they are brought together by an unfortunate situation.
I took an immediate liking to Finch. Beyond the synopsis description of him being a guy who constantly comes up with ways to kill himself, he is complex and rich – a very well rounded character, with whom it’s really easy to engage. He manages to encompass the contradictions that take over when you suffer from depression – his constant need to stay alive, while being unable to stop himself from thinking about the ways other people have commited suicide. Violet is similarly having a hard time coming to terms with her sister having passed away, and the way she has retreated in her shell as a result of it is something that I really appreciate, because it feels like such a realistic reaction to such a traumatic event. I love the way their love doesn’t just happen, but progresses from friendship, and the way their journey across Indiana to discover their state also turns into a journey of self-discovery. I am also a huge fan of the fact that they use Virginia Woolf quotes.
However, as much as I loved the characters and their journey, there are a few things which I was not pleased with. Firstly, while for the most part, the book is hopeful regarding mental illness, the ending throws that away (it is also pretty predictable thanks to the structure of the book). Moreover, recovering from mental illness is, in my opinion, treated problematically in the novel. There is no mention of any medication that might help, Finch’s mental illness remains undiagnosed and therapists are portrayed in a pretty negative light. So, while the book seems helpful to someone who knows people that are struggling with mental illness, it does not do too much for those who are suffering from it.
What really, really bothered me the most, however, is the way no one tries to figure out what is wrong with Finch. His problems are mostly ignored by his friends and family. And while he is actively helping Violet move past the trauma that holds her stuck in the past, no-one is putting in a similar effort for him. He is fighting against his issues by himself. The final part of the book, especially, becomes about Violet rather than Finch and what he has been going through. While I am aware that there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, I did hope that the novel would fight against that in order to show that we should at least try to understand and attempt to help someone who is suffering from it.
Despite this, I really enjoyed the novel, and I am certain that Finch will forever remain on my list of most beloved book characters. I do really recommend this book, especially if you’re a fan of John Green-like novels (yes, the promo is right in this comparison, to some extent). I personally look forward to reading more novels by Jennifer Niver.