by Jennifer Niven
TFIOS meets Eleanor & Park is lofty praise, but I don't usually listen to blurbs like that. Instead, I saw how highly rated this book was on goodreads + its subject matter + the other author comparisons... which made me so incredibly stoked to read it (I actually purchased it instead of waiting for the library, that's how badly I wanted it). But of course, this comes with high expectations.
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
A lot of my thoughts have to do with things I wanted from this book. Perhaps it is a bit unfair to go in with high expectations, to want to be overwhelmed and impressed, to wish for something spectacular. I thought this was it, this would be the one to blow me away. But, well, it wasn't.
To put it in perspective, I got more upset during the acknowledgements than during the book itself.
My reasons for not loving this book has less to do with the book, and more to do with my personal reactions, in a true "it's not you, it's me" reaction. I can recognize how objectively, this book is well done- the main characters are incredibly complex, the writing is whimsical and fitting, and the plot was overloaded with quirkiness.
However, for the life of me, I just couldn't connect with Violet, and at the end of the day, I think that's what is needed for a reader to fall in love with this book. I wasn't really on board with Finch until maybe the halfway point. There wasn't that personal emotional investment in these characters, and I didn't feel like I needed to flip the pages faster to make sure these people are going to be okay at the end-- that feeling, the urgency just wasn't really there, and I think that's what I wanted (and why I was disappointed). And the thing is, I can't really give any reason why - which is why I'm not faulting the book.
What I did like (love) was certain beats of the book. I feel like the 'beats' in the novel (the word just fits, to me, it means like a small chunk of a chapter where things kind of expand for a moment - seriously emotional parts, particular turns of phrases, specific paragraphs of especially powerful writing) were very well done. I could feel myself being pulled in for a second by something Finch does, or something Violet says, but then I'll fall back as the plot continues moving along. I do want to comment on how much I liked Niven's portrayal of Finch - his Awake and Asleep and inbetween, all-consuming feelings were well done-- I liked that Niven wasn't scared to go places with her characters that made my jaw drop (this is true).
There were also parts of the book where I just couldn't really buy into Finch and Violet's romance (and couldn't stand Finch's pushiness, although I understand it's part of the character). It felt very high-school and very insta-love at times. I wish there were more development with the Eleanor aspect, I'm not sure how, but I didn't feel like the closure part hit the right notes for me.
Lastly, I definitely want to discuss how mental illness is such a vital part of this novel - and how well Niven dove head-first into these serious issues. I respect her book's portrayal of the consuming thoughts that an individual is NOT at fault for, the ways she describes fighting and fighting against something that feels so overwhelming and inevitable. It made that big "thing" that happened not feel off, and ultimately made this book heartbreaking and Remarky-able.
7.8/10 - because the characters just didn't do it for me, and with that, I couldn't get as invested in the book as I wanted to be. Perhaps it was my high expectations, but I'm left a bit disappointed. That said, even though it didn't completely connect for me, I'm still singing praises for this one.
author website / twitter