Overall Impression: A feminism-focused book featuring heavily on mental health, that shows the importance of learning to accept who you are, faults and all.
As soon as I knew what this novel was about, I had to have it and bought it the first opportunity, and I’m glad I did, because it’s the most realistic YA book about mental health I’ve ever read. Way to go Holly Bourne!!!
Am I normal Yet? follows the story of Evie, who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (the more well-known contamination type where people feel the need to over wash/clean for fear objects and dirt will cause harm) and generalised anxiety disorder (which causes disproportionate worry about many everyday situations). Since being sectioned, Evie’s worked hard to get her life under control, she’s going to counseling, she’s on medication, she’s working on goals and concrete steps. But now she’s starting at a new college, she’s desperate and determined to be normal by keeping her mental health problems a secret. Evie wants to do all the normal things teenage do, having friends, going to parties and most importantly, dating and finding a boyfriend. But as she starts to slowly come off her meds, she’s constantly plagued by the fear that her bad thoughts are creeping back in…and the problem is that wherever you go, your problems go with you.
So first off, Holly Bourne’s writing in this novel is so on point. Bourne has a great sense of humour and her writing is full of energy, which means despite the seriousness of the topic she’s tackling, the novel remains mostly light and laugh out loud funny. The narrative style of Am I Normal Yet? is also really clever, and I haven’t come across another book like it yet. It’s written in the first person, but incorporates the techniques of Evie’s counseling into her thought processes so that book cuts to headers such as ‘bad thought’ and ‘good thought’ and we get to see how Evie acknowledges and tries to deal with these to varying success. We also get to read her recovery diary. I find that most books focusing on mental health rarely incorporate the everyday realities of going to counselling which leads to many misconceptions and stereotypes, so I really liked that the novel tackled this!
The realism used when tackling mental health also continues throughout the rest of the novel, from teens’ obsessions with appearing normal to their peers, the difficulties of growing out of old friendships and the truths of teen dating. It’s safe to say Evie’s dating experiences aren’t anything like the movies, and some are downright mortifying e.g. one of Evie’s dates turn up drunk while a second brings his parents! Am I Normal Yet? also has an emphasis on feminism, with the central characters starting a feminist Spinster Club in the hopes of reclaiming and redefining the word (unmarried men are bachelors, unmarried women are spinsters, because, fairness). As a feminist, I loved that this was a big part of the book, although I wish it could have been incorporated more subtly in places. Basically, this book just had me fist pumping every five minutes because everything was so on point!
I would say the only slight downside to this novel is that I didn’t become completely invested in the characters, despite relating to all of them and their problems on many levels. I liked them, and became wrapped up in their stories, but they probably weren’t unique enough for me to remember them in a years time without some prompting, especially Evie’s friends Lottie and Amber. However, I know the next books in this series are going to focus on them, so perhaps that will change once I read them!
Overall, there’s so much to love about this book and I know I’ll be recommending it a lot to anyone 11+! It’s real on so many levels, from mental health and counseling to dating and the complexities of female friendships, and I look forward to reading the next book in this feminism-focused series!
Writing Style: 4/5 // Originality: 5/5 // Entertainment: 4/5 // Character Development: 3/5 // Would I recommend this book? Yes!
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Overall Impression: An important novel about depression, survivor guilt and learning to live.
When I finished this novel I felt like my heart had been put through a cheese grater. 😦 It’s definitely one of the most emotional books I’ve read in a while, and its slow build really hits you hard.
All the Bright Places is a story about Violet and Finch, who meet at the top of the school tower, both contemplating suicide. They are up there for very different reasons that have brought them to the same, hopeless place. As Violet stands on the ledge, Finch finds himself talking her down. Afterwards, he can’t forget about Violet, and so makes her his partner on their latest school project to visit three places in Indiana they’ve never been to before hoping to get to know her better.
Oh man, this book. THIS BOOK. I was slightly nervous when I picked it up, even though it had received so much praise I was worried because I had read some reviews saying it romanticised mental illness and used it as a character quirk. Not cool. While I definitely understand why some could interpret it this way, I disagree and found All the Bright Places to be a haunting, poetic take on desperation, hopelessness and learning to live.
Niven’s writing style is similar to that of John Green. It’s almost overly quirky, full of literary references (in this case, Virginia Woolf), dramatic metaphor’s and ponderings about the meaning of life. However, while I couldn’t stand Green’s writing style, I liked Niven’s, there was more believability about it and the characters just about got away with spouting out wise words beyond their years.
The plot of this novel revolves around two teenagers trying to work out how to live in a confusing and difficult world, where the chemicals in your brain can be against you. When Finch meets Violet he recognizes something in her that he struggles with himself, and becomes determined to help her see the brighter side of life. They use their school project to see places as inspiration, and wander to unique spots leaving something behind each time to show that they were there. This novel definitely played on my hunger to travel!
I liked that this novel showed two sides of the same coin of depression – depression caused by a specific situation which can be easier to overcome because it has more of a root cause, and depression that is more inherent/biological that cannot be so easily untangled. All the Bright Places shows that not everything can be fixed by love, and how having a lifeline, such as a friend or someone to pick you up can have such a positive effect. However, it also shows that giving help can only work if you have a willing participant, and often, this is not the case. The end of this book almost had me doubling over in mental pain, as waves of despair, frustration and emotion came over me.
I fell in love with Finch’s character, he was so unstable and erratic in an interesting way and I felt that he was so delicate he could break any minute. In Finch, Niven has truly shown her understanding of mental health, the intense highs and lows, the hopes and debilitating hopelessness that swings back and forth. Finch often contemplates ways he can commit suicide, he lies to his counsellor not admitting what’s going through his head, he worries about the burden he puts on his family and desperately fears the moments he calls the Asleep, intense lows, that creep up and engulf him.
Violet was an equally interesting character, after an event in her life she has withdrawn into herself, becoming disconnected from friends and family, avoiding things that scare her. She uses the sympathy of the adults around her as an excuse not to participate in life, often getting out of homework projects due to ‘special circumstances’ when really she needs a push and hard words instead of soft ones. It’s interesting to see how the two characters challenge each other. I suppose the only downside is that it could be argued the character’s become their illness, however, this novel was a rare example where I felt this was okay, as the characters’ emotions were so all encompassing it didn’t leave much room for anything else.
Overall, All the Bright Places is a memorable, emotional book, and I can’t recommend it enough! It’s character driven rather than having a strong plot, but it’s one of the first books in a long time that has made me experience so many strong emotions, and it’s a story you definitely have to experience for yourself! I would recommend it to teens 13+ interested in mental health, grief and travel. 🙂
Writing Style: 4/5 // Originality: 4/5 // Entertainment: 5/5 // Character Development: 5/5 // Would I recommend this book? Yes!