Books for Teens that Break Your Heart: ‘All The Bright Places’
It’s hard to describe All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven because I don’t know if I want to recommend this book for teens.
On the one hand, I loved it, and not only because I know someone exactly like its hero, Theodore Finch – a wacko, moody guy who everyone thinks is mad and avoidable, but who goes out of his way to make Violet Markey happy when she most needs a friend. A boyfriend like that is a boyfriend most of us can only dream of.
On the other hand, the book left my heart broken. No, in fact, it shattered my heart into pieces so tiny that, more than two months after I read the book, I’m still being stabbed by the slivers. I am not exaggerating. The emotions this book inspires are so powerful, they physically hurt.
I suppose I should have expected something like this when I read the blurb at the back of the book. Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet when both are on the roof of the clock tower at school, contemplating suicide.
Finch has always been drawn to death; he’s fascinated by it, but not apparently in a depressing way. Whenever he contemplates ways to die, it gives him the energy to live – really live, with all his heart and soul; no inhibitions at all. This makes him too much of a weirdo for his schoolmates, who poke fun at him to his face, but otherwise leave him severely alone.
Violet is the kind of girl who’d never be near Theodore Finch. She’s always been the popular, cheerleading type, perfect in every way, complete with a perfect-seeming boyfriend.
But Violet has had a personal loss just months before the story opens, and is so broken that she’s on the rooftop almost without knowing it. Finch saves Violet’s life by guiding her back from the rooftop, though he’s careful to let the school believe that Violet saved him instead. That’s because he is used to being the school’s weirdo and bad boy, but feels he must protect Violet from anything that even remotely suggests she is not well.
And then Finch thrusts himself into Violet’s life though at first she doesn’t like it, and her whole world opens wide. And so does yours as you read what Finch does for Violet. You learn how life should be lived – with an open heart and mind; with every cell of your body.
Naturally, there has to be a ‘but’ somewhere and sure enough, just as Violet begins to embrace the world, Finch’s own world gets smaller. That’s when your heart begins to break, in a long, slow-mo manner that makes you lose your breath.
It took me a long time to decide whether I wanted to recommend All the Bright Places, because it’s one of those books that can really hurt. I still have mixed feelings about telling teens to get this book, but I think I must. Because one day, they will meet someone like Theodore Finch. And having read this book, they will understand him better.