Conversations surrounding mental health issues have always been an area of acute neglect and ignorance. The veil of stigma clinching these problems has strengthened its grip to the point that people feel the need to end their life, instead of discussing their discomfort. Promoting these conversations, or advocating for mental health, sounds easier than done. In this case, it is the responsibility of people from all walks of life to contribute to the cause.
Literature has always been the epitome of timely changes and revolutions. In my opinion, topics surrounding mental health could be addressed through books and relatable plot lines, in order to make these discussions relevant. While many books have attempted to touch upon this sensitive theme, All The Bright Places (ATBP) remains to be the most memorable one.
ATBP holds a special place in my list of loved books. It left behind a void that can never be filled while it also completed my contemplations as a young reader. The love story made me smile through tears. The characters, with their raw mistakes and genuineness, felt like familiar people and their struggles felt relevant to life. In a nutshell, the book managed to present an overview of a much larger problem. Most importantly, the book impulsed me to ponder about love, life, and the underlying struggles.
The story revolves around Violet, a writer and member of the popular crowd, and Finch, popularly known as the freak. What makes them encounter each other in an attempt to suicide from their school’s bell tower. While drowning in their own miseries, they impulsively decide to save each other. Violet is struggling with survivor’s guilt after the death of her elder sister in a car accident. On the other hand, Finch is found to be generally suicidal and disappears for random periods of time.
Following their awkward meeting, Finch becomes determined to re-introduce Violet to the world, partially through a school project that sends them to explore the hidden gems of Indiana. I never knew that a simple book could hold so much power. Each incident felt real and towards the end of the book, I was intertwined with a string of diverse emotions.
Violet is such a tender character that she deserves a big hug. The guilt of her sister’s accident continues to stain her present, snatching away the good things. Things would never be the same for her until she meets Finch. In a sea of despair, Finch steps in with a life jacket. Violet learns to breathe, live, and smile. Of all the things, she learns to rediscover herself. Amidst all of this, Finch is fighting his own battle. He is scared of his moods, and the uncertainty of falling asleep.
His mental health degradation is analyzed throughout the book. Behind smiles and sunshine, there lies a monster, killing him every moment. The bottled-up emotions pose an even greater risk and the lack of support makes things all the more difficult. When he disappears and is subsequently found in a pond, no one knows whether it was intentional or an accident. No one knows whether it is suicide or drowning. What everyone knows is the fact that things were wrong forever, and they were too busy to care or help.
Finch’s self-destructive streak and suicidal impulses are not kept subtle, implying the alarming rise in these cases. It extends the notion of how important the role of mental health awareness is in eliminating untimely deaths. The book highlights how easily suicidal thoughts are ignored and how immense the problem is. It shows how everyone knew everything yet chose to do nothing. It explores how small symptoms predict larger damage and how despite knowing everything, no one actually understood the problem.
At its core, ATBP is a heartbreakingly beautiful book, and like the quote on the first page says, it made me stronger, at the broken points. I shall always be in awe of this story and wonder how the author managed to weave everything together so perfectly. This book has all the colors in full brightness. It is a collection of lovely places. A book has never felt this personal before. I lived in the story, with the characters, for real.
Written by: Maisha Islam Monamee
Maisha Islam Monamee is a medical student and freelance journalist. Apart from writing for The Daily Star, Monamee likes to read her way through life’s little problems. Follow her, @monameereads on Instagram.