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Archive for the ‘All the Bright Places’ Category

Jack and Libby. Libby and Jack. Two teenagers with issues. Jack has Prosopagnosia and can’t recognize faces, even of those who are close to him…even his girlfriend, which has caused him problems in the past. He’s identified other means of, sort of, recognizing people, but it’s certainly not fool proof. Libby was once dubbed America’s Fattest Teen and had to be lifted out of her house by means of a crane. Currently half her former size, she’s still a big girl, subject to the taunts of her high school peers.

Libby, having been the brunt of a cruel joke perpetrated by Jack, punched him, so they are both destined to serve time in the Conversation Circle after school, where they and several other teens discuss their behavior, among other things. It is there that they get to know each other and find out what makes each other tick.

Libby is still mourning the sudden death of her mother five years earlier, an impetus to her spiraling weight. Jack knows about his father’s affair and is trying to hide both this and his Prosopagnosia from the rest of the family. Can two people with issues come together and understand each other?

Jennifer Niven came on the scene in early 2015 with the critically acclaimed All the Bright Places in which she tackles suicide and bipolar disorder. In Holding Up the Universe, she tackles another subject affecting not only teens. Living in an era in which match-stick thin is a sign of beauty, being a larger size can have a dramatic impact on a person’s self image. Libby, however, knows who she is after having lived through a period during which she never left her home. She’s proud of who she is and wants to the world to know she is loved and wanted and just a great person. She, in turn, tries to instill that confidence in others.

While I enjoyed reading Holding Up the Universe, I found Libby to be too rah-rah. Is that possible given her past? Yet maybe that’s what’s necessary to let the world know that self worth isn’t inversely proportional to weight. On the other side, I don’t know how Jack  made it through life without anyone knowing of his disability. It seems incredible. In looking back, I also had an issue with characters in All the Bright Places.

Niven has put together an interesting supporting cast, most of whom ring true. All in all, Hold Up the Universe was an enjoyable read.

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Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people ages 10-24 and approximately 4,600 people in this age category die each year from suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.

The top of a clock tower, contemplating suicide, is a strange place to

AllTheBrightPlacesmeet, but so it was with Theo Finch and Violet Markey. Her sister, Eleanor, dies nine months previously in an auto accident for which Violet feels responsible. It was her idea to take the A Street Bridge which can get treacherously slippery at times. Theo is just trying to get away from a broken family, abusive father and bullies at school calling him Freak.

It is Theo who saves Violet, not only from jumping but from the paralyzed life she is leading. She refused to get into a moving car and rides her bicycle, Leroy, everywhere. She has stopped writing (she and Eleanor had co-authored a blog). She has disengaged from all her friends. When Finch requested to be partnered with Violet in a U.S. Geography project that will force them to travel around the state of Indiana, she is forced into a car and she is forced to write, to things that will get her on the road to recovery.

However, Theo’s issues are more severe. Theo has clearly fallen in love with Violet. She has shown him that there are good days, not only bad ones. And while, in many ways, Violet has saved Theo, the real question is will it be enough.

FallingIntoPlaceWhile I liked All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, I didn’t love it. It is another case of an odd couple, in this case the once-popular girl and the outcast guy. It is also another case of a road trip changing someone’s life. I don’t have a feel for whether Theo rings true because I’ve never known anyone who was extremely bipolar, so it was hard for me to get into his character. The book does provide an interesting contrast in parents when you compare Theo’s to Violet’s and it raises the unanswerable question of ‘should a parent be able recognize that a child needs help or are they always the last one to know?’

A recent book I would recommend about suicide is Falling into Place by Amy Zhang. In that, you can feel the pain.

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It is five days before Christmas when Alex’s younger brother, Ty, TheLastTimeWeSayGoodbyecommits suicide: a shotgun blast to his chest. He had stayed home from school, ran certain errands and, it seems, carefully planned the day.  Her mother is coping by going to work, coming home, having a glass or three of wine and crying. Her parents divorced several years ago and, while Alex sees her father weekly for dinner, the time is taken up with idle conversation, so his emotions barely play a role in this book. Alex is barely coping herself.

Alex’s therapist has suggested antidepressants to which Alex is vehemently opposed. So, instead he recommends that she keep a journal as an outlet for her emotions. Possibly direct the entries to someone in particular, and describe firsts and lasts.

Both Alex and her mother often seem to find themselves in Ty’s basement bedroom. On one such visit Alex thinks she smells his cologne and sees him leaning against the wall. On another visit she finds a letter in a desk drawer addressed to Ashley, his former girlfriend. She and her neighbor (and former best friend), Sadie, debate the merits of giving the letter to Ashley. Sadie is addicted to shows about mediums and thinks Ty’s appearances are due to unfinished business which Alex must complete.

For some reason I feel like I’ve read a similar book recently but I can’t remember the title. In it as well as  The Last Time We Say Goodbye there is a letter to a former girlfriend left by the suicide. (If you have any ideas, let me know.) Of course the letter has a cathartic impact on the recipient.

As I imagine is the case in most suicides several people feel they could have prevented Ty’s actions, when truth be known, most of the time those last actions would have been too late. That is a hard lesson to learn and accept. Additionally, everyone reacts differently to loss of a loved one, which is evident in The Last Time We Say Goodbye.  As the book jumps back and forth between Alex’s journal, present day and recollection, it concentrates on the survivors, and less so on why Ty did what he did. There are vague hints, but nothing that over time would suggest suicide as being inevitable. This might have put everything in a better perspective for the reader.

Having said all of this, I found The Last Time We Say Goodbye a good read. I liked the characters, although, as I said, you don’t get much of a feel for Ty. The emotions seemed real. The interaction between Alex and her friends and family is understandable. And hey, it has as happy an ending as a book about suicide can have.

I must be in my ‘reading suicide’ phase because I just started AllTheBrightPlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which starts off with a teen thinking of suicide. So, I think after this, I’ll move on to a happy book. Any suggestions?

 

 

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