Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label depression. Show all posts

Friday, July 17, 2015

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Source: borrowed from Jennifer at The Relentless Reader

Summary from Goodreads

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.

My Review:

I was all over the place with this book.  In the end, it did get a thumbs-up from me, but I had quite the journey getting there.

My initial impression of All the Bright Places was that it's a perfect fit for John Green fans.  It's hard not to be reminded of The Fault in Our Stars, as Violet and Finch (both depressed and "damaged" in their own ways) meet at the top of a bell tower, contemplating suicide for different reasons.  They manage to get off the ledge, and so starts a quirky romance between the two.  It's that careful mix of sad-but-funny that made me want to compare it to TFIOS right off the bat.

After that first reaction, though, I started to have a bit of trouble with Finch.  I just couldn't understand his character's MO.  His suicidal ideations seemed almost flippant, almost as if he was trying out the whole suicide idea just to see if he could add to the odd reputation he had at school.  (I would like to stress that I am not implying that real-life suicide victims take that action as an attention-seeking behavior.  Just that Finch, in the way his character was written, seemed to have no solid reasoning behind/basis for his suicidal thoughts, which made it hard for me to make sense of him, as the reader.)  Finch started to come off as over-the-top for over-the-top's sake, which made me lose interest a bit.

However, the novel takes quite a turn in the last third.  The mental health and family issues that Finch is dealing with become much clearer, putting his past actions into a more focused context.  Many of the funny/humorous elements of the text begin to fade, as Violet starts to realize what Finch is really all about.  In the end, I was left with a conclusion that was far more poignant and emotional than I ever expected at the book's beginning.

In hindsight, I know that Niven's treatment of Finch's character early in the novel was intentional.  By the end of the book, I felt bad about my initial impression of Finch as cheeky or superficial, as he was clearly behaving in such a way to keep his family and friends in the dark about his problems.  This, combined with the maddening lack of attention from his immediate family, creates a perfect storm--and herein lies your biggest lesson from this book.  Niven manages to fool the reader about Finch's true nature, just as Finch is fooling all of his closest contacts.

All the Bright Places is a young adult novel, but one with a message.  It has much to say, and Niven has found an impactful way to say it.  This isn't exactly a feel-good novel, but the way it approaches suicide and mental health makes it worth any reader's time.

What's the last book you read that had, not a plot twist, but a good character twist thrown in?  Someone who turned out to be not at all what they originally seemed?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

And then my heart burst. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Title: Hausfrau
Author: Jill Alexander Essbaum
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Source: review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Z├╝rich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there’s no going back.  

My Review:

I read Hausfrau and now I AM BROKEN INSIDE.

Honestly, I was a bit unsure of this book during the first half.  Hausfrau is getting a ton of buzz right now, and as I jumped into the text, I had to spend some time unraveling Anna's inner turmoil.  At first, I found myself getting rather annoyed with her--what business does she have, cheating on her husband at every turn?  Ignoring her kids in favor of another tryst?  I even was (dare I say it?) bored for a chapter or two as things played out.  (And, I should note (for those who'd like the content warning), they do play out quite graphically.  It got a little 50 Shades of Grey up in there for a while.)  But as the details came together, I began to realize that Anna isn't a stereotypical desperate housewife.  Anna is really and truly depressed.  And this book captures her downward spiral in the most heartbreakingly stunning way.

I think that's the best thing to know going into this book: there is no catch here.  There's no mystery behind Anna's background that's going to explain her actions to you (I kept waiting for some big reveal about her past that didn't happen).  This book is a character study in depression, plain and simple.  And depression doesn't usually have one root cause that can be so quickly explained.

Even though there is no big revelation about Anna along the way, there is a rather significant plot change that occurs in the second half, and this is where my heart basically imploded and I could.not.stop.reading until the very end.  Oh, the sadness, my friends.  I felt so deeply for Anna by the end of this novel.  I don't get real attached to characters in novels most of the time, but I felt emotionally entrenched in her story for sure.

And the ending.  This book could make my favorites list for the year simply because of how well Essbaum wrote the last page.  I won't spoil it for you but just...amazingly poignant.

Do you like character-driven novels?  Do you like to feel all the feels (and I don't even like that phrase), especially the depressingly sad ones?  Then Hausfrau will be the most well-written novel to make you cry in 2015.  HANDS DOWN.

What's the last book that really and truly tugged at your heartstrings?  Made you cry?
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