This year has been a bustling one for young adult fiction, and a common topic that has found itself at the surface of these novels intended for teenagers is illness. Ever since the popularization of “The Fault in Our Stars,” young people have flocked to novels that show aspects of hurt, distress, and even death. Authors have glorified death in order to get more readers. Thanks, John Green, for the misconception that illness helps you fall in love.
Jennifer Niven, a writer of mostly adult fiction, has tried her hand at this blossoming young adult trend and has brought suicide to the forefront of her piece, “All the Bright Places.” The novel centers in on two teenagers, Violet Markey and Theodore Finch, who meet and end up engaging in a serious relationship after standing on the same sixth-floor ledge of their high school in order to attempt suicide. This is the glue of the plot. Unfortunately, it is not taken as seriously as it should be. While it is a hard, sad truth that some school officials in the real world do not take these attempts as seriously as they should, the adults in Niven’s novel are portrayed as callous, unemotional creatures with not so much as a heart for their students. Plus, the supporting cast of additional characters are just as bad as the educators are. It is upsetting that there is very little support for these two very ill characters.
Mental illness is often glorified in literature, and I am in no way discrediting “All the Bright Places.” It is an absolutely gorgeous novel. The diction is beautiful, the plot is solid and relatable in some senses, and the novel itself explores all facets of a young adult relationship. However, I feel that this novel just further shows that there has been a fetishization of ill individuals in current literature. Readers often feel that this makes the narrator more vulnerable, but should that not be shown by indirect characterization? Niven sort of shies away from this skewed way of thinking and has these characters wanting to get better throughout the novel, but the main pull of this book is that it focuses on illness and how being sick can get someone to love you. It does not give the actual written word justice.
“All the Bright Places” is going to be made into a major motion picture after countless reviews have said what a heart-wrenching story it is. Sound familiar? Illness and suicide, especially, resonate with people. People crave death in literature, and while these two main characters embody the probable archetypes you could have in any young adult novel, they are further complicated by being suicidal. While it is done tastefully, it still fulfills my argument that writers today are focusing too hard on making the reader “feel” things. My advice to the writers? Stop romanticizing mental illness. Don’t rely on gimmicks to make your pieces better. You don’t need it, and neither do people with mental illnesses.