Dual Review: Two Amazing Books that Tackle Mental Health

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.

Am I Normal Yet by Holly BourneAs 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!
Overall: 4/5

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Overall Impression:  An important novel about depression, survivor guilt and learning to live.

All the Bright PlacesWhen 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!
Overall: 5/5

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18 thoughts on “Dual Review: Two Amazing Books that Tackle Mental Health

  1. All the Bright Places is so tragic. I loved it a lot! I was doubtful at the beginning but the more I got to know the characters, the more I realized this book wasn’t plot driven and I got truly invested. It showed how one depression isn’t like another and that the source can be situational (which I think is easier to come out from) or more genetical.

    I think I would recommend it to teens 16+ because of what happens though, especially when you’re dealing with Finch’s kind of depression. Teens are spontaneous and don’t think things through and the strength of this story might come across as a hopeless situation for those teens, especially when they’re so young. Then again, if you’re dealing with situational depression, after losing a close relative, it could help those teens that “hey, you might not feel or think it right now, but one day, you’ll wake up and realize it’s not always so dark out there. That there is a sun behind those clouds. There is someone out there who cares about you.” (but that’s my opinion :p)

    Green’s writing style! YES. I was thinking why it felt so familiar! Niven’s so much better, I totally agree with you on this. I feel as if John Green is getting a bit too much hype (because of his youtube fame). I’ve only enjoyed one book enough to give it 5/5 and that’s The Fault in Our Stars as it hit me so hard that I cried for hours and hours and I’m too afraid to reread it because of all the feels. Plus, I feel as if Green’s writing comes of as arrogant sometimes. Like “look at me and how bright I am” and not once did I have that feeling with All the Bright Places considering that the characters searched for Virgina Woolf’s quotes whereas Green’s characters always seem to be “born with wisdom, a natural source for inspirational quotes” – as if.

    Great reviews!

    • Yes, very tragic! I agree, I wasn’t too sure what to think at the start but it slowly built and grew on me until I couldn’t stop reading. It definitely won’t appeal as much to people who love a plot driven story. Yes, I completely agree! It shows that just because two people are suffering from depression, it doesn’t mean they are going through exactly the same experience, it’s different for everyone.

      That’s fair enough. 🙂 The main reason I went with 13+ is because I feel like people suffering from these issues need to know that they’re not alone, and that’s the kind of age where they can begin to surface, but I totally understand where you’re coming from! Some of my favourite books when I was younger were the more serious ones because they made me think about things I hadn’t encountered before, but that doesn’t mean that everyone at that age would be emotionally read for them. I love the way you put that, ‘sun behind the clouds’. 🙂

      Yes, yes, and yes! I’m so glad you get what I mean. I’m so with you on that one, Green can come across as very arrogant. I don’t believe he actually IS arrogant, it’s just his style, but it can be very distracting while reading. I’ve only read The Fault in Our Stars by him but I’m not sure I would pick any of his other novels up, because my main problem was the writing style – which isn’t likey to change.

      Thank you very much! And thanks for sharing your own thoughts, always great to hear from you. 🙂

  2. They have “Am I normal yet?” at the school library, I’ll go by Monday and pick it up. I’ll show them your reviews as well…Thanks for the GR recommendation, these two sound superb.

    I’ve got “The Lie Tree”, the Costa book award winner on order from them as well.

      • I’ll let you know for sure, but don’t be surprised if it takes me a bit to get to it. I have two new releases coming in the mail this week that are definitely top priorities – the sequel to Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and the last in the Red Rising trilogy. I have to read the last Red Rising book right away because I’m seeing the author, Pierce Brown, in Toronto this month. Yayyy!!!! (whispers quietly – look him up he’s hot :))

      • Haha, don’t worry, I TOTALLY understand book buddy. 🙂 Ah – I got Red Queen from a friend for Christmas, I didn’t realise you had read it. I will have to get to that one at some point. I hope the end of the Red Rising trilogy concludes in a way you enjoy, I know you love that series! At least now when I finally get to it I can binge it all in one go. 🙂 Which reminds me, I just read Kelley Armstrong’s Darkness Rising Trilogy on the trot. Have you read those ones? I had a lot of fun reading them but didn’t enjoy them as much as some of her other books.

        YOUR SEEING PIERCE BROWN? I AM SO JEALOUS. Like you say, that man is hooooooooot. Give him a big smile from me, and possibly a cheeky wink. 😉

      • I have read the Darkness Rising trilogy. It was good, but whereas some YA series seem no different than adult books to me, that series was definitely younger. I still enjoyed it though for an easy read. I just finished Kelley’s new book, City of the Lost, and it was fantastic. It was a mystery and had me totally fooled right up until the end!

        Cheeky wink – Bahaha! Love it, and I will definitely do that. I follow him on Instagram, and he seems like a really fun guy :).

      • Yes, that’s exactly it, it did feel a lot younger and it was almost, dare I say, a little too simple? It sounds harsh, especially as I enjoyed reading it, but I know the stories and characters won’t stick in my head for the long haul. Oooh, sounds great! Don’t know anything about that one.
        Hehee. Wicked.

  3. Brilliant reviews! You always get to the key issues. They sound like amazing books and you know how much I love themes of mental illness/fucked up characters 🙂 I’ve just bought them both!

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