|Once you've read it, the cover alone will steal your tears.|
The fact that Elle Fanning's going to play Violet is just the crowning glory here, because I literally pictured her as Violet the whole way through. And there's literally no one better, because come on, she's literally everyone's girl crush, and I basically hugged Violet because we're twins because we write and she's a fangirl of Sherlock and Supernatural, for pity's sake (which you can find out on http://www.eleanorandviolet.com/ because this is a book that actually has made the story's websites real. Including Germ. That's right, I'VE WRITTEN FOR VIOLET'S WEBSITE. BOO-YAH.
But let's get back to the story.
So, Theodore Finch wants to kill himself. That's how the book opens.
Well, to be precise, he doesn't want to kill himself. A lot of the time, he wants to live. But he thinks about killing himself. A lot.
And so the book opens with him on the bell-tower ledge at his school, wondering whether or not to jump off.
He doesn't, simply because he's not alone. The bell-tower ledge is also occupied by Violet Markey. Who is also standing on the edge, staring down, and wondering whether or not to jump.
Finch-everyone kind of calls him Finch, it's cute-talks her down in a pretty adorable way, joking around with her and then talking her back onto the roof. And then he follows her.
That's pretty much the beginning of the story of Finch and Violet.
Finch's family life sucks-that's not an exaggeration. His sisters are cool enough-Kate's your typical worries-but-isn't-always-sure-how-to-ask responsible elder sister and Decca, his baby sister, is just adorable because she reminds me to a tee of my little cousin-smart, feisty, and obsessed with One Direction. (OK, Boy Parade, but it's basically their version of One Direction.) But his mother's working several jobs and isn't actually around all that often, due to the fact his dad walked out on one of those buy-a-new-wife-get-a-new-kid-free deals, and married someone else. Oh, and his dad is evil. And that's not an exaggeration, either. His dad hits him, for pity's sake. I cannot describe how much I started shouting at the pages when that became clear, because no one hits Finch, oh no.
Violet's close to her parents. She used to run a website with her big sister. Emphasis on "used to." Because a few months beforehand, her sister died in a car accident, because it was snowing and it was icy and Violet told her to go over a certain bridge. And they crashed and that's slammed Violet with a ton of survivor's guilt, and I can't explain how much I wanted to just wrap my arms around her. And ever since Eleanor died, Violet's lost her words. They've gone, died before they could be born. Her words are like still-born little stories that she can't reach in the dark.
And Finch and Violet end up working on a school project together. This isn't coincidence, entirely, the way it often seems to be in YA books-to put a long story short, Violet gets given the all-clear on everything to do with schoolwork these days because she's grieving and sad and mixed-up, and then their Geography teacher basically tells her "That's over, girl" and tells her to, in one of the best phrases ever, "get back on the camel."
|The go-to animal for helping the bereaved move on.|
So now they've got to work together on this project, which is basically finding any obscure place they can, driving out to it, videoing it, taking pictures of it, scribbling on it, whatever lets them tell everyone they're proud to be from Indiana, where the book's set. (I like to think the teacher might have come up with this project on the spot because he was fed up of all the kids whining that they couldn't wait to get out of this place, and he just decided to wind them all up.)
So, Finch and Violet have to spend a large amount of time together. And that pretty quickly leads to them falling for each other-but not in a clichéd way. In fact, it's so natural and great, that it's just easy to read. They're good for each other. Literally, one of my favourite scenes in the whole book is where Finch makes Violet climb into a car again. (Ever since the accident, cars have been taboo for Violet.) And she manages it. After this:
"Everyone around you is going to give you a gentle push now and then, but never hard enough because they don't want to upset Poor Violet. You need shoving, not pushing. You need to jump back on that camel. Otherwise, you're going to stay up on the ledge you've made for yourself."
BOOM. (OK, not Boom, but it's two-thirty am and it's the only thing I could think of right now.)
And Finch-Finch is helping Violet live but he's obsessed with death. Literally. He knows every statistic about suicide you could guess. You can probably guess where his mind's going, a lot.
But when he's not depressed, he's Awake. He shows up at Violet's house at three in the morning. He paints himself red for a day at school. He plays with bands on stage. He's one of the most Alive people you could imagine.
But that's not enough when he's Asleep.
Inside, I try not to take up too much space or make any noise because if I do, I may wake up the darkness and I want the darkness to sleep. I'm careful when I breathe so as not to breathe too loudly. If I breathe too loudly, there's no telling what the darkness will do to me or to Violet or to anyone I love.
A string of thoughts runs through my head like a song I can't get rid of, over and over in the same order: I am broken, I am a fraud, I am impossible to love.
I got Finch. I don't have anything like his family situation (my family's amazing.) But I got that darkness that pulls you down into the black hole inside, a hole you can't climb out of and sometimes can't make yourself want to. I got it too well.
And I got Violet too. I got her counting down the days until she can leave and go anywhere, anyplace but where she is now. I got how the world can be upside-down with you dangling off the edge before you know what to do or what happened or why you're here.
Nothing that says: This is the last thing you will ever write before the world changes.
I think of all the things I want to shout: I hate this town! I hate winter! Why did you die? This last thought is directed at Eleanor. Why did you leave me? Why did you do this to me?
"It's like I've got this angry little person inside me, and I can feel him trying to get out. He's running out of room because he's growing bigger and bigger, and so he starts rising up into my lungs, chest, throat and I just push him right back down. I don't want him to come out. I can't let him out. Because I hate him, because he's not me, but he won't leave me alone and all I can think is that I want to go up to someone, anyone, and just knock them into space because I'm angry at all of them."
And everyone has their own story. Even Embryo, Finch's counsellor (yeah, it's an unfortunate nickname, Finch came up with it) has his moment after everything happens where we can see him wondering why. Even Violet's parents aren't like the Brady Bunch (perhaps it's me being an angsty teenager but I did not like her father that much. Long story short: she stays out all night with Finch, which sucks, but then her father effectively banishes him from the house and takes on the classic-sitcom-dad role of "You will never see that boy again" and I actually screamed at the book because seriously, he doesn't even ask her side of it or look at how much happier she is with Finch. It's just like, he's right, that's it. Drove me almost as mad as Finch's dad. Thank God Violet's a rebel. ) Finch's little step-brother isn't that bad, he's just trying to get by.
Even the mean-girl types have their own story. SPOILERS:
Finch shows up at an anti-suicide group for teenagers during one of his moments of desperately trying to get better for Violet's sake and everyone's telling their stories when guess who walks in but Amanda, who's been giving Finch hell since the start of the story and used to be Violet's best friend. Which I actually loved because it dispelled the whole "mean girls are just mean and that's it, and they never have any issues, so there" thing that's pretty prevalent in books these days. And the theory that the popular kids never have mental health problems, never struggle with anything. It smashes that theory to pieces.
This book is important. Take it as someone who's been there with the black hole; it's an important book. People do not talk about teenage mental health enough. It needs to be talked about. This book is one of those ones that literally said my feelings word for word on some pages. It needs to be read and it needs to be talked about. Because how it ends-no spoilers-actually didn't disappoint me. (It made me sad. Oh hell, it made me sad.) But to be honest, it was real. And that just made it sadder, but I actually felt like Jennifer Niven did us a real favour by ending it this way, by being brave enough to make it real. To show that this is what happens. This is what is happening. And this is what we need to talk about.
You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.
I loved the little things, too. The way Finch makes up epitaphs for the people he knows. The bad words they tear up and the good words they stick on the wall. The closet-universe that Finch makes for Violet. As Violet learns to appreciate the little moments in life, we're soaking them up in the book too.
Maybe one day I'll talk more about why this book felt so important but not right now. But I will say I kept listening to "How To Save A Life" by the Fray and "Cut" by Plumb over and over while I read it. I kept thinking about Doll Hospital and why it's so important. I kept thinking about the black hole, which always to me, feels kind of like the song "Needle In The Hay" by Elliott Smith-just that quiet hopelessness, getting stronger and stronger all the time. I kept thinking about that moment you wish you'd stayed on the phone a moment longer, you'd asked that question you were scared to ask. I kept thinking about how right now, we still have the chance to do those things we want to. It's not too late.
On a lighter note, this book also inspired the website Germ, which is amazing and I've written for, and you should totally check it out.
Don't forget to wander.