All the Bright Places

Last night, I finished yet another of next year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominees, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Like The Last Time We Say Goodbye–also a SCYABA nominee–All the Bright Places deals with the subject of suicide. The two books differ, however, in how they approach the topic. While The Last Time We Say Goodbye takes a look at what happens after a loved one commits suicide, All the Bright Places kind of shows readers what leads up to it. Yes, this book also gives a glimpse of the fallout, but the bulk of the book focuses on the “before,” for lack of a better word.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the school’s bell tower. Both of them are there thinking about doing something drastic. In Finch’s case, he never really stops thinking about ending it all. Violet, for her part, is overcome by grief following her sister’s death and simply wants to escape.

On that fateful day, this unlikely duo eventually climbs down from the bell tower, and, though their classmates think they know what happened up there, no one but Finch and Violet knows the truth. Who really saved whom?

After the “bell tower incident,” Finch and Violet partner up for a class project. Their assignment is to explore the wonders of the state of Indiana. At first, Violet is less than enthused about the project…and working with Finch. Ever since her sister’s accident, Violet won’t get in a car. That sort of limits just how much of Indiana she and Finch can explore. Finch doesn’t let that stop them. He’s determined to enjoy every moment with Violet. After all, how many moments do they have left together?

As reluctant as she was in the beginning, Violet is enjoying her time with Finch. There’s something about his seemingly boundless energy that makes her want to join the world again. But while Violet is starting to live again, Finch wonders how long he can stay “awake.”

Finch is pulling Violet out of her self-imposed shell, but he’s also retreating into his own. Violet senses something is “off” with Finch, but she doesn’t know how to help him…or if he’d even accept any help. And his friends and family don’t seem to find anything amiss.

What can Violet do if no one will admit that anything is wrong? And is there any way to stop Finch from doing the unthinkable and leaving Violet to wander this crazy world alone?

So, you’ve probably surmised by now at least a little of what happens in this book. No, there’s not some magical happy ending, but it doesn’t leave readers feeling totally hopeless, either. As someone whose life has been touched by suicide, I really appreciate that.

Another thing I appreciate about this book is the very realistic way it portrays bipolar disorder and the stigma attached to it and other mental illnesses. Some people–often even those suffering with mental illness themselves–don’t think they have an actual medical problem. After all, it’s not like they have cancer, diabetes, or anything like that, right? Wrong. People need to pay attention to the signs of mental illness and treat it as the serious medical–and treatable–issue it is. Would attention and treatment have been enough to change the outcome of All the Bright Places? I don’t know, but it might be what it takes to save someone you know and love.

If you’re a librarian, teacher, parent, or other adult wondering if this book is a good fit for middle grade readers, I would honestly say that I’m not sure. There is some cursing, a couple of sex scenes (which for some reason freaks people out way more than graphic depictions of violence), and very frank talk of death, but that’s reality for lots of kids. Yes, even those in middle school. I would say to know your audience. Use your best judgement when recommending this book to anyone, but especially those not yet in high school.

I definitely enjoyed the time I spent with Finch and Violet, and I’m so glad the SCYABA committee chose to place this book on next year’s nominee list. All the Bright Places elicited a lot of feelings–not all of them comfortable–and I went through my fair share of tissues while reading. I predict that lots of other readers will have the same experience.

Apparently, we’ll be able to see Finch and Violet on the big screen sometime in 2017. Pre-production has already begun on the film adaptation of All the Bright Places, and Elle Fanning has been cast as Violet. I’m sure more will be revealed soon on the book’s website (which has tons of great information), but that’s all we know for now. This has the potential to be a great movie. I just hope Hollywood doesn’t screw it up (like they tend to do).

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half has been on my staggering TBR pile for quite some time, and I finally finished it on Christmas Eve. Now that the craziness of the holidays has (mostly) passed, I can take a little time to tell you what I think of this funny, strange, and thoroughly relatable book.

*Disclaimer: Normally, my posts deal with books for middle grade or YA readers. This is not one of those. This book is intended for an adult audience.*

In this book, Allie Brosh takes her fantastic blog and transfers it to a book that, if I’d been reading it in a group of people, would have elicited some rather strange looks aimed my way. Many parts of it were laugh-out-loud funny. (The cartoons–some of which have earned Internet meme fame–only added to that.) I particularly enjoyed her near-constant battles with her dogs. Hilarious stuff.

Other parts of the book, however, made me think, “Wow. Someone out there gets me.” Brosh isn’t shy about addressing her depression or the terrible thoughts that sometimes invade her head. Anyone who deals with any form of depression or anxiety is sure to find something to relate to in Brosh’s work, and those who’ve ever wondered about the toll mental illness takes may just have their eyes opened a bit.

Of course, Hyperbole and a Half isn’t all about one woman’s battle with depression. It’s about her childhood, her family, her daily struggles with somewhat difficult pets, and simply navigating through life with some humor (and profanity). Who doesn’t need a little of that?!

If you’re a fan of the Bloggess (who wrote Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy), I suggest you give Hyperbole and a Half (both the blog and the book) a try. This book is a quick read that I think lots of adult readers will enjoy…if they haven’t already. (Apparently, I’m a little late to the party on this one. Oh well. Better late than never.)

Furiously Happy

After following Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess, on her blog and Twitter and reading her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, I knew that I would absolutely read her second book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, as soon as possible. (Also, who doesn’t want to read a book with a lovely, ecstatic, taxidermied raccoon on the cover? Who, I ask you?!) Well, “as soon as possible” turned out to be this week. (The book came out last week, so I guess I’m doing okay.)

Furiously Happy is a candid–and hilarious–look at Lawson’s own struggles with depression, anxiety, and a few other issues. As it turns out, I really needed that this week. Like this beautifully broken author, I also deal with depression and anxiety, and the depression hit me pretty hard this week. (And no, I cannot pinpoint why. That’s not really how depression works. At least, not for me.) This book was just what I needed to make me laugh until I cried and to let me know that I was not alone. I have a whole tribe of weirdos out there who are just like me. (Well, maybe not just like me. I don’t know of any other 36-year-old spinster librarians with depression and social anxiety who have a fondness for Star Wars, Doctor Who, and playing the tuba.)

If you have a somewhat twisted, irreverent sense of humor–or if you’re broken in your own particular way–I strongly suggest you read Furiously Happy. It’s crazy, uproariously funny, eye-opening, comforting, and just plain awesome. I love it.

For those who are still not convinced to read this amazing book, check out the video below. It brings me to tears–and gives me hope–each time I look at it.

*Note: Furiously Happy is NOT a YA book. I would not put it in a high school library or YA collection. This book, in my opinion, is meant for adult readers.*

The Opposite of Hallelujah

I picked up my latest read, The Opposite of Hallelujah, because it’s nominated for the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. (My book club chose to read these nominees for our April meeting.) Judging by the book jacket, I expected sort of a psychological thriller, kind of in the same vein as Dead to You by Lisa McMann. Older sister returns after eight years away, and little sister has trouble adjusting? Yeah, my mind immediately goes to “Are we sure that’s really her sister?” That notion was disabused fairly quickly, but I still enjoyed the book, and it was, at times, quite the emotional roller coaster.

For the past eight years, Caro Mitchell has, for all intents and purposes, been an only child. Her older sister, Hannah left home to become a nun when Caro was just eight years old, and Caro has barely seen her sister since. Things, however, are about to change. Hannah, now twenty-seven, is coming home.

Caro is not pleased with the abrupt change in her life, and, like a typical sixteen-year-old, she lets everyone know it. She doesn’t know how to handle having Hannah home, and she’s unsure what she should tell her friends about this sister she’s never mentioned before. So, she does what a lot of teenagers would do…she lies. Eventually, Caro’s lies do catch up with her, endangering her relationships with her boyfriend, her friends, her parents, and her sister…who is battling issues that Caro is growing desperate to understand.

No one is quite sure why Hannah left the convent, why she refuses to eat, why she can’t sleep, or why she can’t seem to move on with her life, but Caro, after dealing with her own issues, wants to help her sister. She wants to find out why Hannah is so depressed and what can possibly be done to help her. In the process, Caro will come face-to-face with a long-buried secret, a secret that could explain so much about the sister that Caro barely knows.

As Caro learns more and more about her sister, she’s also forced to examine herself. She takes a long, hard look at her relationships with those closest to her, why she chose to lie about her sister, and, ultimately, her faith in God. Caro is forced to come to some unpleasant truths about herself, but those lessons may just bring her closer to everyone she loves…including Hannah.


I must say that I liked The Opposite of Hallelujah more than I thought I would. When I first started reading–and I figured out that it wasn’t the thriller I had hoped it would be–I was disappointed, and I did put the book down after reading about 100 pages. Yesterday, though, I picked the book up at about 10am, and I didn’t put it back down again until I was finished…350 pages later. I devoured it, and I think many other readers, particularly those who may struggle with their faith, will have a similar experience.

Although I did end up enjoying this book, I have to confess something. I didn’t like most of the characters. Caro was kind of a brat through most of the book, only redeeming herself near the very end. I thought her parents were too hard on her at times, and I wanted Hannah to just snap out of it. (I know this is a familiar sentiment expressed toward depressed people. I’ve heard it often enough myself.) And even though I know it’s fairly common with some teens, I was kind of disturbed by how often Caro snuck out of the house, went to parties, and got drunk with her friends. (I didn’t have a drop of alcohol until I was well out of high school, so this was kind of foreign to me. And yes, I was a goody-two-shoes. I make no apologies.) I did like Caro’s boyfriend, Pawel, but even he disappointed me on occasion.

There was one major thing I definitely liked about Caro. I respected how driven and intelligent Caro was, and I appreciated that she didn’t try to dumb herself down…especially around guys. She was a good student, she excelled in science and math, and she owned it. Good for her.

I’ve only read one other nominee for next year’s SCYABA, I Hunt Killers, so I can’t say yet how this one stacks up with the rest of the list. I will say, though, that The Opposite of Hallelujah is a great read that will resonate with many readers. Anyone who’s ever had problems with parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, religion, fitting in, or owning up to bad decisions will find something to relate to in this book. Read it!


Mad Love

Even though I think Valentine’s Day is a stupid non-holiday (yes, I’m single), I found myself reading a book with a big ol’ heart on it yesterday.  Purely coincidence, I assure you.  When I first started reading Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors, I was expecting standard chick-lit fare.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, by the depth of the main character, Alice, and how she approached issues that no teenager should have to deal with.  It also didn’t hurt that Mad Love threw in some mythology and supernatural goings-on.  That’s always fun.

Alice Amorous is the daughter of world-famous romance novelist Belinda Amorous. People probably think that being the Queen of Romance’s daughter is glamorous and full of flowers, hearts, and candy…but they couldn’t be more wrong. Alice is doing her best to hide the horrible truth from everyone. Her mother is battling a mental illness in a private psychiatric hospital, and she hasn’t written a word in three years. 

It’s up to Alice to make sure the bills get paid, books get autographed (or forged, as the case may be), and eager fans and publishers are kept at bay.  But it’s getting harder and harder to cope…especially when her mom’s publisher wants a completed manuscript or a return of the $100,000 advance for the next book, and the hospital needs payment for Belinda’s care and treatment.  Alice doesn’t have the money needed, and she doesn’t know how she’ll get it…until she gets the bright idea to write a romance novel herself…in her mother’s name, of course.  There are a few problems though:  1.  She’s not a writer.  2.  She’s never even been in love (and how can you write about romance if you’ve never experienced it?).  3.  The publisher needs the novel by the end of the summer, so she’s got about a month to come up with something.  What’s a girl to do?  Well, someone comes along who may just have the answer to all of Alice’s problems…

When Alice first meets Errol, she thinks he’s crazy.  Also, he reeks of clam juice.  After talking to him for a bit, she still thinks he’s crazy, but she’s willing to hear him out if it will ultimately help her mother.  See, Errol thinks he’s Eros, better known as Cupid, and he wants Alice to write the real story of Cupid and Psyche, the story that the gods wanted hushed up.  Alice has quite enough crazy in her life, but she agrees to help Errol–even though he’s wrecking her relationship with Tony, the new guy in town.  As Alice works on the book that she’s sure will fix everything, she learns a little about what a love story truly is and the power of love in all its forms.

Will Alice be able to tell Errol’s story before it’s too late?  Will it be enough to keep her mother’s illness a secret?  Is this guy really Cupid?  Will her mother ever get better?  And will Alice finally get her own love story with Tony?  Answer these questions and many more when you read Mad Love by Suzanne Selfors.

Mad Love is a quick, easy read that will definitely appeal to tween and teen girls.  (It will be a hard sell for most male readers.)  Despite the cover, this is an emotional read that highlights what children of depressed parents go through.  It also gives a new look at a story you might have encountered before.  Many mythology enthusiasts–like myself–know the story of Cupid and Psyche, but Mad Love presents it in a whole new way…without the “happy ending” that we’ve grown accustomed to.  Author Suzanne Selfors does a great job of showing readers how truly powerful love can be, whether it’s the love between parents and children, friends, romantic interests, or even total strangers.  Mad Love is a wonderful, heart-wrenching book that will leave you examining the love in your own life.  I know it did for me.

For more information about Suzanne Selfors and her books, visit  (I’ve only read one of her other books, Saving Juliet, but it, too, was great, so I’ll probably check out a few more!)

Black Box

Julie Schumacher’s Black Box is a great read for anyone who has suffered or knows someone who has suffered from depression.  The title refers to the black box on the labels of some medications which indicates that the person taking those medications should be monitored closely.  It is also a metaphorical phrase in this novel.  It represents depression with seemingly no way out.

Elena Lindt’s sister Dora has just been admitted to the psychiatric ward of Lorning Hospital.  Dora has been dealing with depression for a while (though her parents and Elena didn’t even realize what it was).  She seems to have lost herself.  She sleeps all the time, she doesn’t eat, she’s lost interest in nearly everything, and her family doesn’t really know what to do.  Elena knows that it’s her job to save her sister.  She’s always looked out for her sister.

Elena watches over her sister.  She writes her notes when Dora’s at Lorning, and when she comes home, Elena keeps close tabs on what is happening with her sister.  Every time Dora has a relapse, Elena feels partly to blame.  When Dora tries to end things for good and must be sent to a treatment facility, Elena does not know what she could have done.  Even her parents seem to blame her for what has happened to Dora.  What was she supposed to do?  And how can she be responsible for the actions of her older sister?  Are things ever going to get better?

Read Black Box for a gripping story of what one young lady  goes through when her sister is suffering from depression and how she copes with her new and terrifying world.