All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Published by: Penguin
Warning: This isn’t going to be a review, as much as it’s going to be a list of reasons why I find this book completely problematic, despite its many awards and recent ‘Goodread’s Choice Award’ win.
No. 1) It blurs the lines of sexual consent.
This is my biggest issue. Violet and Finch are in a relationship. It may not be a healthy one but if they both want to have sex, that’s cool. What’s not cool is Finch pressuring Violet into having sex with him. There are two instances that stick out in my mind after reading this book, where Violet is apprehensive and Finch pressures her.
Incident A: The Post-it Notes
Finch has this thing about writing good words on Post-it notes and sticking them to his wall, and writing bad words on Post-it notes and then ripping them up. Violet and Finch are engaged in this activity, when Finch asks her if she wants to have sex and she writes ‘Maybe.’ Let’s just stress that ‘maybe’ is neither yes or no, but if sexual consent isn’t given with a resounded ‘yes’, it’s better to back off. Finch rips up this Post-it. She writes ‘Okay’ instead, after she realises anything other than a direct affirmative isn’t what Finch wants to hear. He rips this Post-it up too. She then writes ‘Yes’ and after that they have sex. Now you’re thinking: she said yes, right? She gave her consent! And, you’d be right, but under what circumstances did she give that consent? Pressurised ones!!
Incident B: Possessive Boyfriend Alert
Violet comes over to Finch’s house. Here’s a condensed version of their conversation:
‘Shoes off, Markey’
[Violet] takes off her shoes.
‘Okay, but later then. I won’t forget.’
In what universe is that OK? Just because someone doesn’t want to have sex immediately, doesn’t mean they, ipso facto, want to have it later. I think it’s awfully presumptuous of Finch and extremely possessive to not let the fact that Violet refused sex to escape him.
No. 2) It presents the idea that you need a significant other in order to get better.
This is my least favourite thing. It wasn’t enough for Finch and Violet just to be friends, and help each other out of difficult situations with movie marathons and heart-to-hearts over ice cream. They had to get into a relationship, which caused more trouble than it was worth.
Relationships are not the antidote to mental illness.
I hate that, the majority of the time, as soon as mental health enters a YA book, a love interest will inevitably come and ‘cure’ the protagonist. It perpetuates the idea that romantic love from a significant other is more important than support from family and friends when it comes to overcoming mental illness. It’s literally the ‘kiss and make it better’ trope and it makes me laugh every time.
And again, Finch forced Violet to do things she wasn’t comfortable doing, like getting into a car after her sister/closest friend died in a car accident. When Violet’s parents suggested she try driving a little, she refuses point blank. When Finch wants her to get in the car, she seems to forget all her emotional turmoil and just jump right in, because that’s what he wanted her to do. Violet needs more resolve.
No. 3) Lives are never as pretentious as they seem in YA books.
Did I seriously just read a book where the main characters quote Virigina Woolf at each other? What is this, Paper Towns? At least Finch had to Google some quotes. That was the only realistic thing about it.
As much as I’d love to think that a boy will some day compare me to all the colours in the universe, it will not and doesn’t happen. Teenagers aren’t little Shakespeares. In the next book I need, can the protagonists laugh over a funny meme on Tumblr, rather than make bold declarations of love from balconies and black holes?
So, my rating isn’t surprising. One star.