Wednesday, January 14, 2015

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES - By JENNIFER NIVEN - Best Book of 2015? Already? Maybe!



RELEASE DATE: January 6th, 2015

FORMAT/PAGE COUNT: ebook/400 pages

PUBLISHER: Knopf Books for Young Readers



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. (From GOODREADS)

EXPECTATION: The moment this book entered into my awareness, I knew I HAD to read it. I expected great and amazing things from it. I don't even know why I had that immediate reaction, I just did. I had not yet heard of Jennifer Niven. The book just entered my radar on Instagram and I pre-ordered it the moment I saw it.


"The great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody." ~ Theodore Finch

"Worthless. Stupid. These are words I grew up hearing. They're the words I try to outrun, because if I let them in, they might stay there and grow and fill me up and in, until the only thing left of me is worthless stupid worthless stupid worthless stupid freak. And then there's nothing to do but run harder and fill myself with other words: This time will be different. This time I will stay awake." ~ Theodore Finch

It is no mistake I waited a couple weeks to write this review. This was one of those books I had to continue to digest long after reading the last word. It was for me. Mine. I couldn't formulate the feelings I had for it while I was still having them.

It's also no mistake that TODAY is the day I'm posting this review. Today is BELL LET'S TALK DAY 2015. It's marketed as a day of NATIONAL CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH. To be honest, when this day first appeared it made me angry. I thought, 'why can't we talk about mental illness ALL 365 DAYS!?' For those dealing with mental health issues, they don't get to put those issues in their pocket for all the other days of the year. Their marginalization happens every day. But I think I get it now. Raising awareness on this day is a way to begin the conversation that will, hopefully, last all the days of the year.

Why do I bring this PSA up in the middle of a review for my favourite book of the year? Because Theodore Finch.

Jennifer Niven has written one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I put this on my top books list alongside Franny & Zooey, Wonder Boys, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Fault in Our Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the rest of my faves. It's simply brilliant. It's one of those books that took my breath away, and prevented me from catching it again until long after I finished the last page.

One of the reasons I can't really say much about the book is that I feel to talk about it would be to give away some of its secrets. I hate spoilers. If you're going to read this book, you should go into it blindly and allow yourself to excavate its gifts all on your own. What I can talk about is the way it made me feel, the beautiful prose, the expertly executed duo points of view. It was so pleasurable to read this story from both Theodore Finch's and Violet Markey's POV. Two wonderful characters fully realized on the page.

Their story? It opens with both of them standing on a sixth-story ledge. The circumstances that brought both characters together on that ledge could not be more opposing. Violet is a guilt-wracked survivor of a car accident that took the life of her older sister. Theodore? His story is slowly revealed throughout ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. But while the reader is up on the ledge of the bell tower in the courtyard of the high school the two attend, we get it. We fully get why Theodore is there. He's the tragedian of this masterpiece. He's the always-been-broken-can't-quite-figure-out-why fall guy that every single high school in North America (if not the world) has. Theodore Finch is suicidal because he's Theodore Finch.

The story begins not because Theodore is going to succeed in ending his life THIS TIME. It begins because he suddenly sees a reason not to end it. The popular Violet Markey is standing there, ready to jump to her death. Saving her, he doesn't even consider that it might somehow save himself. He is just capable of seeing the value of a life...when it is not his life he's seeing.

This is a tragedy. In YA, tragedies are extremely hard to pull off. But Niven does it. My god, does Niven do it. I'm still raw from reading this book, weeks after doing so. I want to tell all my friends and enemies about it. I want to buy them all copies, in case they don't take me serious when I tell them they need to read it. I want to sit them down and make them read it.

I won't say more about the story itself. I'll just say that it is beautiful. And I will say that THIS is a perfect book to begin dialogue on MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES. Especially in the world of the young adult...where the scope of experience is too narrow for teenagers to realize the one most important possibility when dealing with the demons of mental health issues--- IT GETS BETTER.

I leave you with a couple more lines from the book which I highlighted because they felt like words that were ripped directly from my own teen soul. In other words, I related 100% to the character THEODORE FINCH, and the emotional tidal wave of conflict he experienced in his life.

"I can't love anyone because it's not fair to anyone who loves me." ~ Theodore Finch

"If I breathe too loudly, there's no telling what the darkness will do to me or to Violet or to anyone I love." ~ Theodore Finch

EXPECTATION: I intuited that this book would leave a lasting emotional impact on me. I just didn't know how profound it would be. It met my expectations in the first chapter. It exceeded them in the second. By the third, I was no longer reading...I was there.  I am Theodore Finch. Just as much as I'm not.

SIZE: I never gave a book a size 6 before. It seems silly, when the sizes are meant to represent stars and the highest is 5. I just can't be satisfied giving ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES a 5. And it's worthy of more than a 51/2. In This is Spinal Tap, they turn the amplifier up to 11. On this humble book review blog, for today anyway, I'm following their lead. I'm turning this one up to 6. Deal with it!

Afterword: Please discuss mental health issues and bring them into the light of all the bright places you see. Bring those suffering into the light with you. We need to embrace them, tell them they will be okay, tell them they are not alone. Mental illness is a real illness, like cancer and multiple sclerosis and diabetes. There is no shame in having a mental illness. It's time to stop marginalizing and segregating those who suffer. Join the conversation. TODAY---Wednesday, January 28th, 2015---the conversation is ongoing across all social media platforms. Find it at #BELLLETSTALK 

Anna and the French Kiss - A Review of a Gorgeous Book by Stephanie Perkins



RELEASE DATE: December 2, 2010

FORMAT/PAGE COUNT: ebook/400 pages

PUBLISHER: Speak - Penguin USA



Can Anna find love in the City of Light?

Anna is happy in Atlanta. She has a loyal best friend and a crush on her coworker at the movie theater, who is just starting to return her affection. So she's less than thrilled when her father decides to send her to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year.

But despite not speaking a word of French, Anna meets some cool new people, including the handsome √Čtienne St. Clair, who quickly becomes her best friend. Unfortunately, he's taken —and Anna might be, too. Will a year of romantic near misses end with the French kiss she's waiting for? (From GOODREADS)


Could I be any later to the party?!

From the moment I first heard about this book, way back in 2010, I had fully planned on reading it. And I knew, intrinsically, that I would love it. What's not to love? My favourite city. My favourite market (YA). My favourite genre (Contemporary with a romantic element). My favourite YA setting--boarding many boarding school stories do I love?! Uncountable. A Separate Peace, Winger, Looking for Alaska, etc., etc., etc...) It was meant to be.

The set up for Anna and the French Kiss is almost, but not quite, cliche. Poor little rich girl gets sent to yucky old Paris for boarding school. But as a reader, I understood her angst right away. Being yanked out of a safe life of best friends, after school job, a city you know and a life you're fully connected with...that can't be easy, no matter the beauty of place you're arriving in. And the fact that Anna had a total skeezball for a father didn't help.

In the world of young adult, there seems to be a total pandemonium (fandemonium) surrounding the lead male character. √Čtienne St. Clair is no exception. From the first encounter with him, we know Anna is hooked. Even if she doesn't even know it herself. Even if it seems hopeless because he is already in a relationship with another girl.

What is truly great about this novel is the way Perkins incorporated hard-hitting punches alongside her sickly sweet young adult romance. A great example of this is St. Clair's mother, and how her cancer diagnosis throws the near perfect St. Clair into a tailspin. Perkins has an excellent way of building on character flaws, and making their imperfections carry the reader through the book with a great sense of hope. Hope that the obstacles are overcome. Hope that the careening self-sabotaging character prevails. Hope that the characters can rise above.

This is a love story. It is also a story about place. Paris is the third character. I don't remember a time when setting was more exceptionally executed. Having just returned from Paris prior to reading Anna, I have to say that this book was perfect in its execution of place. Absolutely perfect.

What I didn't love about this book. I have to really wrack my brain to come up with something. The only thing I can think of is ELLIE. She is not a fully developed character. But you know...I don't think she needs to be. She has moved on from the boarding school, and her old friends who still attend. Her relationship with √Čtienne St. Clair, I suppose, is one of habit. Although I point this out as a possible story flaw, I also defend Perkins's reasons for not fully developing Ellie. 

What I loved about this book is everything. It has excellent dialogue that is TRUE. It has just the right amount of build up of expectation, where romance is concerned. It has a great and satisfying ending. It is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, my pick for favourite read of 2014. My only regret is that I didn't read it sooner.

Size: 5 1/2 (1/2 for the gift it gave me by returning me to Paris so soon after I left the city I love the most in all the world, outside my own. And 1/2 also for being my favourite read of 2014.)