All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

all the bright places

Theodore Finch is one of those characters that you become fond of. Reading about him and the way that he sees the world gave me an insight into mental health issues and what it is like to be a teenager in todays instant world. When I was a teenager we didn’t have 24 hour contact with our friends – if I was on the house phone for longer than half an hour my Dad would shout at me for blocking the line! It worries me that teenagers these days (how old am I?!) never switch off; their brains must be a constantly revolving door of information and gossip.
Theodore is depressed ( I think) and obsessed with suicide – namely his. He is constantly thinking of ways to kill himself. To this end he finds himself on the roof of the tower at his school with the aim of jumping off. There he meets Violet Markey. Her sister has recently died in a car crash and Violet is in the grip of a profound grief. Before this she was a popular and well known student at the school and as soon as students start to notice the two people on the top of the tower Theodore gives her an option. Jump or, tell everyone that she was up there to save him – the well known crazy kid who is obsessed with suicide. She chooses life – her reputation is saved and his is just where he left it, in the crazy box.
They spend more time together; Theodore is trying to help guide Violet out of her haze of grief and get on with her life and it seems to be working. She is slowly recovering and the more they see of each other the more they start to feel for each other. The end of the book then, comes as a shock. I won’t spoil it for you but it brought home to me the fact that you never know what another person is thinking, no matter how close you are. No matter how good you think someone’s life is, there is always something going on which you may not be aware of.
Read this book. Think about Theodore and Violet and the mark they leave on the lives of all the people they meet. Then think about the mark you are leaving on all the people in your life and how important you are to them all. This book is moving and profound and although it made me sad, it was also life affirming.

The Giver – Lois Lowry

I decided to read this book because it is shortly to be released as a film. I read a review of it on goodreads and was surprised to find that there was a lot of stuff written about it. The book was written in 1993 and follows the life of Jonas. He lives in a community where everything is the same. Children are given to ‘parents’ and brought up following a very strict system. When they are 12 they are allocated their positions within the community and work until the can join the old. The old are then looked after until they are no longer useful and the ‘released’. It is pretty easy to work out what that means but Jonas thinks that  they have this wonderful ceremony where they recount all the marvellous things that the old person has done and then set free…. Set free to where?

Jonas is allocated as the position of ‘receiver of memories’; a special job that is unique within the community. He has to meet with a man called ‘the giver’ who will pass along memories to him. It becomes clear that the community has given up things like this. They are given tablets to repress their sexual appetite, do not have relationships and feel no emotions. Jonas is given the gift of all these so that he may pass them along in his turn. There is an interesting section where he asks his ‘parents’ if they love him, their response is  alarming. Jonas’ father is a Nurturer. He works at the Nurture Centre looking after the newborn children until they are ready to put with a ‘family’. There is a sinister feeling to this, the child they look after in their home, Gabriel, is obviously cared for, but only in a practical sense. If he does not shape up, he will be ‘released’ too.

I can see why this book has been so talked about. They study it in American schools and it is easy to pigeonhole it as utopian/ dystopian fiction. What starts off as an idealistic portrayal of  society quickly deteriorates into a controlled regime where mind control and chemical suppression is normal. As with most dystopian fiction the main character realises the danger that they face and tries to escape it, you will need to read the book (or watch the film!) to see if he makes it…..