All the Bright Places: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

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5star

About 40 pages into this I started to feel as if I was riding into a deep, dark tunnel with no chance of escape.

See, if I’d known what this book was about…what it’s really about, I mean… I wouldn’t have read it. Not in a million years. I knew that two kids with depression fall in love, and I knew that the guy’s more messed up than the girl. But I’ve read books like this before and they didn’t turn me into an emotional wreck. Actually, I read a book like this a few weeks ago, My Heart and Other Black Holes, which is well-written and brutal in it’s own right, but nothing like this. Not to me. Because the guy in All the Bright Places, Theodore Finch, has bipolar disorder and is serious about committing suicide. And that hit me really close to home.

This book is very highly rated on Goodreads and elsewhere, but I’ve seen my fair share of reviews that I can only describe as: “Oh myy gawwd! This book is so unrealistic! People with mental illnesses aren’t all quirky and poetic, and if you like effing John Green, you can read this trash, but this is actual crap. And it’s so disrespectful to people who really have a mental illness!” Sooo… you can dislike this book for whatever reason, it’s a free country. But I’m going to be real freaking honest with all of you: 1) I don’t think the dialogue in this book was nearly as complex and unbelievable as in TFIOS (which I liked btw), and 2) if you read this entire book and come away with the impression that Finch is nothing like someone who has a “real mental illness,” then you have obviously never known someone with Bipolar I Disorder.

Yes, everyone is different, but trust me when I say that Finch is sooo much like the bipolar friend I had in college. Finch describes his manic days (what he refers to as “awake” days) as both exciting and terrifying. He barely sleeps. He talks a mile a minute. He can run for hours without getting tired. He has a thousand different thoughts going in and out his brain at one time. He knows a ridiculous amount about random stuff, because when he’s “awake” he has time to learn and do so much. He doesn’t have many friends because the kids at school know he’s weird, but can’t put a finger on exactly what’s wrong with him. My old friend is all of these things. But of course, Finch and my old friend are much more different than they are similar. Because like Finch says, he’s more than just a label. The symptoms of his illness can’t capture the person he really is—someone who loves music, and fake accents, and the great outdoors. The problem is, Finch isn’t sure what kind of person he really wants to be.

Finch thinks he wants to be with Violet, but he tells her she should run away from him if she knows what’s good for herself. (And man, have I heard this line before…) Violet basically tells him, “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m broken too.” Her sister passed away almost a year ago, and Violet’s fallen into a depression because of it. So these kids can relate to each other, but what happens when you’re the less mentally ill one in a relationship where both of you are mentally ill?

Seriously, this book is so important . Everyone should read it. Especially if you’re a parent, or you know someone with a severe mental illness, or you’re about to enter the phase in your life when many people are diagnosed with mental illnesses…that-no-so-magic 16-20 age range. Read it even if you’re like me and you know that it’ll mess you up for a bit. I’m going to compare All the Bright Places to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me of all things. I said in my review of that book, I said that Coates doesn’t give us the key to ending racism, but he can help us understand why racism exists in this country and what it feels like to be a victim of this institutional racism. I believe that empathy can go a long way. So read All the Bright Places and walk a mile in the shoes of a kid with bipolar disorder. Then come back and dare to tell me that we don’t need to fix the way we talk about and treat mental illness.

Last thing: I’m glad that this is going to be a movie, because I know Finch and Violet’s story will reach more people that way. But I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to watch it. Definitely approve of casting Elle Fanning. She’ll do a great job.

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George: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

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5star-2

I can confidently say that this book is near perfect.

George is a very simple, straightforward story about a 4th grader who was assigned male at birth but knows in her heart she’s a girl. She comes out to her friends and family after declaring that she wants to play Charlotte in her school’s rendition of Charlotte’s Web. [And lemme just take a moment to say that the idea of a group of 9-year-olds acting out Charlotte’s Web on stage makes me so happy.] George’s character shines, as does her best friend’s, her best friend’s dad, her mother, her brother…really, all of the characters are well-developed. And the series of events are realistic. It’s not too sad or sappy, but it might make you cry a little, and cheer a little bit more.

I’d recommend this little gem to everyone- as a lesson in acceptance, to inspire confidence, and/or just for a good read.

My Heart and Other Black Holes: Goodreads Chioce Awards 2015 Nominee Review

(Man that’s a long title.)

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4-out-of-5-stars

My Heart and Other Black Holes, written by first-time YA author Jasmine Warga, is about a suicide pact. I know. It could be beautiful and profound, or it could be full of disastrous cheese and cliches. And honestly, I was getting ready to shit all over this book. But surprisingly, I actually liked it.

A lot of young adult authors turn mental illness into something way too interesting and dramatic… their female characters cry about the losses they’ve experienced every night, longing for an adventure to take them out of their slump, and crap like that. In reality, depression is usually pretty boring. Jasmine Warga does a good job conveying this. The protagonist, Aysel, is a very regular girl. She has serious issues, but she’s a regular girl nonetheless. She doesn’t have many friends, or interests, or talents, and she has no hopes for her future because she wants to kill herself. In the meantime, she spends her freetime doing a lot of nothing. Sadly, this is what depression looks like in the real world. Her voice is also very authentic. She doesn’t use any flowery language to describe her day to day activities. Because not everyone who’s depressed or terminally ill is a poet, guys.

But don’t get me wrong, the book is far from boring, and Ayself herself isn’t boring. Underneath her depression, you can see clear hints of a personality, and the kind of life she’d want to live if she didn’t have this “worm” inside of her killing all of her passion. Early on, Aysel meets her suicide partner, and the impact they have on each other unfolds nicely. I think Aysel’s backstory also unfolds nicely. There aren’t any major twists. Everything appropriately reveals itself gradually.

I’ve read that some people take issue with the ending. I can see where they’re coming from. It was a bit rushed for me too. But it didn’t offend me. When I closed the book I was satisfied. I don’t know if it would be a good read for someone newly struggling with depression, because it doesn’t offer up too many solutions. But for someone who’s “been there, done that” with mental illnesses a few times, it was pretty uplifting.

Let me know what you thought about this book if you’ve read it! You can also see the full list of Goodreads Choice Award Nominees that I want to read here, and check out my Goodreads account here.

To Read: Goodreads Choice Awards 2015 Nominees

Last year, I had a blast making my way through as many Goodreads Choice Awards Nominations as I could. (Final paper grades probably suffered because of it. Oh well, I graduated.) I discovered a lot of books that I liked (Bad Feminist, The Fourteenth Goldfish, In the Blood), and had fun reviewing one that I hated (Love Letters to the Dead). So I decided to make a TBR (to-be-read) list from 2015’s nominees. Obviously it will be impossible to read everything on this list before the voting closes at the end of the month, but I’m going to do my best.

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