Written by Maya Mackey (’24)
Trigger Warning: Discussion of suicide and abuse
In my First-Year Seminar at St. Lawrence, we’ve been discussing how the portrayal of mental illness in literature may be useful for two reasons: Firstly, books containing characters with mental illness may help educate others about mental health. Secondly, if displayed effectively, these characters can help eradicate stigmas surrounding mental health.
After learning about the positive aspects surrounding literature showing characters with mental disorders, I decided to expand my horizons a little, beyond the novels we were reading in class. I had heard wonderful things about the book All The Bright Places, which features a character who has Bipolar Disorder, and another character that has depression for a substantial period of time after the death of her older sister.
In summation, the storyline of All The Bright Places circles around the character Violet Markey, who is suffering from severe depression and survivor’s guilt—last Spring, her sister Eleanor passed away in an unfortunate car accident. Violet is counting down the days until graduation, when she can go to college and leave the terrible memories of her time in Indiana far behind her, when she befriends a boy named Theodore Finch purely by chance. Finch, who many of his classmates have named “Theo Freak,” is a young man who can only be classified as a rebel. He changes his appearance biweekly on a whim, and suffers through lengthy and dreadful periods of depression only to later on be bursting with such energy he can’t sleep—symptoms of his untreated Bipolar disorder. As Finch befriends Violet and convinces her to work on a class project with him, Violet soon learns to stop waiting for her life to improve and to create her own happiness in the wake of her sister’s accident, and Finch finally allows himself to place trust within his new friendship.
Let me tell you something about this novel: you will not be disappointed. It didn’t take long for me to become entrapped within the plot, and after all of the character development is finished, it becomes a page-turner. What I liked most about it was that, although Finch and Violet each struggled with their mental health, the author made it clear that those issues weren’t the whole of their existences—Violet and Finch had other goals, dreams, and problems like any other high school senior. In short, the author didn’t entirely focus the plot on the mental illnesses of the characters, a common criticism of those who write about mental health.
A warning to all, however: there are some tough things to get through in this book, and it most likely will make you cry—it certainly made me tear up. This novel presents elements of family abuse and parental neglect, violence and bullying, suicide and self-harm. Despite these topics being difficult to read about, I think it’s important that the author included them—Niven provides an accurate portrayal of high school students, and the issues they face daily. Niven is realistic in her depiction of student and adult characters, and the relationships between them—lending to her credibility as a writer and her experience as someone who has dealt with the death of family members and friends as a result of suicide. Not to mention, Niven also includes useful information about suicide prevention in the Author’s Note section, which I really appreciated.
If you’d like to take part in the conversation surrounding bibliotherapy and how literature intertwines with mental health, I would recommend All The Bright Places. It’s important to support authors who choose to write about or include mental illness in their work, as they’re helping to eliminate stereotypes and stigmas surrounding mental disorders with every page read.
Disclaimer: Her Campus St. Law U is neither sponsored by nor affiliated with any brands or companies mentioned in this article.
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