My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“…the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody.” -Finch
Niven offers two complex main characters to her readers. Violet, who lost her older sister and best friend in a car accident the previous year, and Finch, who has been labeled a freak by his peers and thinks about suicide almost daily. Both characters have been created to complement one another, yet travel in opposite social circles at school.
Their story together essentially begins when they save each other. Before you start thinking this is your typical love story of when the popular girl and alternative boy realize they have something in common, it’s not. Yes, the reader can tell the two will fall head over heels for one another and have to fight against the currents of high school in order to stay together, but the story is so much more than that and thus, deserves more credit than that. (This is coming from someone who absolutely does not care for romance and is not fooled by the usual YA themes.)
The reason I think this works is because, based on the author’s note, it is semi-autobiographical. Niven speaks from a place of loss and is able to flesh her characters out because of that. She creates characters who are so real, I could think of a match from my high school for every one of them.
Finch has the urge to be someone and make life count, but he also has the urge to end his life. Violet is coping with the death of her sister Eleanor and has given up on a lifelong dream because of it. Both have come to a place that I know we’ve all been before. Their attraction to one another moves beyond surface level rather quickly, and Niven creates a romance for them that anyone would envy. Finch is smooth despite the fact that he’s trying to figure out who he is and how he wants the world to see him. Violet is confident and smart, however, Finch is the better character when comparing the two.
One message I think Niven wanted to get across is that judgment is unavoidable. Every time we wake up and go out into the world, someone is there to offer a reaction to what we do. Something Niven does excellently is consider how we perceive ourselves compared to others’ perceptions of us. Most of us (especially girls) are too harsh on ourselves and are overly critical of our image and how others might react to it. For those of us who are self-aware, we are hyper sensitive to how people respond to us in person and on social media. Other people’s reactions to us are cues to continue or discontinue our actions. In turn, a lack of attention can offer the same. We are encouraged by positive attention and likes rather than our own personal viewpoints about how we look or how well we pull off a certain style or outfit. Rather than Niven having her female lead, Violet, be worried about these things, she fleshes these uncertainties out with Finch.
This book really brought me back to my teenage years, which were full of anxiety and worries about labels. Finch shares the same worries, as I’m sure most teenagers do. Finch’s worries expand further than the typical teenage worries, which provides the major premise for the book, which is suicide. I hesitate to say it’s a book surrounding suicide because I think Niven’s goal in writing it was to teach us how to live and how to truly explore life.
“I think I got a map in my car that wants to be used, and I think there are places we can go that need to be seen. Maybe no one else will ever visit them and appreciate them or take the time to think they’re important, but maybe even the smallest places mean something.” -Finch
Finch and Violet teach each other how to search for meaning in their lives and in people. We look different to everyone we encounter, whether we meet them on a screen or in real life. It’s not the days we remember, but the moments. We have to live for these good moments and throw out the negative ones, and we have to just be careful with how we treat others. We must display love even to those we dislike because people remember those moments. They remember how they were treated years and decades later. We linger on each other and allow others to stay with us even without meaning to. We have to shed the negativity and live in the light, allowing it to flow through us at all times.
Goodreads Rating: 4.20 Praise It
Recommended for: Strugglers, Stragglers, Wanderers, Virginia Woolf Quoters
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