Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Gayle Forman, Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.
I was surprised by how much this book moved me.
I started reading it and was expecting the novel to be a light teen-romance story: boy meets girl, girl meets boy, you know that kind of thing! And I was right in a way as all of those elements, which we know and love, from a Romance story are there in abundance. Niven describes the electrifying thrills of first love so well that the reader feels the exciting jolts of expectation and longing along with Violet every time she brushes against Finch’s hand. The relationship that forms between the two central characters is utterly believable; their love story is sweet, sincere and beautifully written. But the fact that both characters meet on top of a Bell Tower at the start of the book, contemplating thoughts of suicide, indicates that this is not going to be your average fairy-tale love affair.
The central Romance is born out of this meeting, and immediately flags to the reader that this story is going to be a complicated one. The book does not shy away from complex issues about mental health, depression and suicide. As you read on and begin to root for both Finch and Violet to be together forever the narrative also subtly weaves in a sense of tragic foreboding. You want the star crossed lovers to live happily ever after, but much like another literary duo, Romeo and Juliet, the reader senses that this may not end well for one, or both, of the main characters. Niven isn’t writing a light literary Romance, but is bringing real and complicated social issues to the front of her narrative.
The characters are written really well, but for me it is the bold choice of themes that I really loved about this book. Niven challenges stereotypes and stigmatism surrounding mental health in our society by showing the undefinable nature of mental health problems. There is no easy fix and there is no typical person who suffers from mental health problems. The very nature of mental health difficulties are that they are hard to define, hard to explain to others who aren’t experiencing what you are feeling inside. But Niven shows that even though they are seemingly undefinable that we shouldn’t shy away from talking about them and sharing our thoughts and feelings with others as this is how we start to be able to understand them better.
Niven doesn’t rely on stereotypes of what people with mental health problems are like, Violet is just like you and me but she has suffered a tragic shock and loss in her life which deeply affects her, while Finch is extremely loveable, charming and strong in the face of an abusive father and struggles to cope with his own highly personal and unique problems. The lovers find each other due to their common grounding in suffering from mental health problems, but this does not define how they see each other afterwards. They see beyond that, they see each other, hear each other’s stories and love each other for who they are. Their suffering sparks a conversation and a connection, but it does not define or dominate their love story.
Well done Jennifer Niven! A brilliant and thought provoking read with real heart and great characters at its core.