All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Finch and Violet have a common goal when the meet on the edge of the bell tower at their school. Though everyone believes Violet saves Finch from a suicide attempt, she’s not so sure that’s the truth. At first an incongruous pair, the two are slung together for a class project in which they must explore their home state. During the course of their adventures, Violet and Finch draw closer together, but their relationship may not be enough to save them from the dark pull of tragedy.

A brilliant new addition to the realm of realistic fiction. Niven gives readers a little bit of romance, hilarious adventure antics and, of course, Kleenex-worthy sadness. This is also a poignant, unflinching look at mental illness in teens — a subject that is often danced carefully around. I think it’s important to read novels like this, where truths are discussed without shame. I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers, but pick this one up if you’re looking for your next heavy read.

Rating: 4/5

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

 

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Craig Gilner is determined to follow what he believes is the best path in life: get into the best high school in the city, go to a great college, get a good job, and make money. However, when getting into said high school involves a tremendous amount of pressure and stress, Craig has trouble dealing with the obstacles. Unable to cope with his life’s new course, Craig develops depression, coupled with suicidal thoughts. One night, after a planned suicide attempt, Craig checks himself into a mental ward. There, among adult patients fighting to regain their own mental strength, Craig must re-evaluate his priorities and find a reason to choose life.

If you couldn’t tell from the summary, this one is a HEAVY read. Craig’s battle with depression and suicide can be tough to read at times, so this book wouldn’t be a good pick if you’re looking for a light, fun read. There’s also not a ton of action in the piece. It’s about Craig finding himself and dealing with his problems, so there’s more talking than anything else. However, if you love to read stories of personal struggles, this one may be a great choice. I also appreciated how Craig’s problems started when he was very young. Many adults feel like teenagers don’t have “real” problems, but Craig shows what I think is a very realistic picture of what a teenager’s life might look like.

Rating: 3/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Challenger Deep Full Analysis

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Caden has an average teenage life — parents, a sister, friends, sports, school. Though everything appears normal for Caden, behaviors usually dismissed as personality quirks begin to take over his life. He quits the track team to take secret walks for hours, can no longer focus on his daily activities, and is convinced that bad things are about to happen. In his mind, Caden is a crew member serving an unpredictable, vicious captain set to turn Caden into his slave. With each passing day, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred, sending Caden further into his abyss of mental illness.

This book was just wow. I honestly don’t think I’ve read anything like it. Shusterman uses incredible style to illustrate Caden’s mental illness, including symbolism echoed in both Caden’s real life and in the world he believes is real. Though it can be tough to understand at times, this book talks about a very important issue that many would prefer is kept quiet. As Caden says in the book, “Dead kids are put on pedestals; mentally ill kids are swept under the rug”. It’s time to stop ignoring or shaming others because of circumstances beyond their control. The more we talk about this issue, the better it gets. I fully expect Shusterman to win all the awards for this!

Rating: 5/5 

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.