Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415
In this novel, Jennifer Niven explores a crisis in the life of a teenage boy. She begins the book as he comes to consider suicide by leaping from a tower but soon reveals that the situation is even more complex. Not one, but two high school students are at an uncannily similar crossroads; however, Theodore Finch and Violet Market arrived at this moment from very different positions.
Narrating the first part of the novel in first person, Finch says that he is not sure how he arrived on the tower, as many occurrences in his life seem to just happen to him, rather than happen as a result of his decisions. To him, this feels like being awake for a few days after having been asleep for a long time. He considers himself a misfit whom the other students bully and call "Freak."
As he realizes that Violet is also on the tower, he wonders what motivated a popular girl with a baseball star boyfriend and "queen bee" popular girls for friends to commit suicide. After the two help each other out of this precarious situation, their lives start to intertwine.
In the alternating chapters, Violet narrates in first person. She is grieving the tragic loss of her sister; this trauma has given her nightmares and inhibited her ability to plan beyond high school. Once a committed writer who planned to pursue writing as a career, she now has severe writer's block and cannot imagine it in her future. The circumstances of the accident also alienates her from her parents.
Finch's immediate problem centers in his parents' breakup. His mother's difficulty with coping after his abusive father leaves eventually translates into a limited understanding of how to help her son through this drastic change.
As Finch and Violet find common ground together, and then become romantically involved, the reader sees that there is a disparity in the teenagers' ability to cope. Finch ultimately takes his own life, leaving Violet to cope with another bout of grief. Finch had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but rejected mental health assistance.
The novel succeeds as a fictional work intended to help young adult readers understand difficult issues and advocates for obtaining adults' assistance with such problems. The teenagers are often deep within their problems, yet the author's prose is often too clear and linear to be an accurate representation of their contradictory, jumbled ideas and impressions. In that regard, readers may not find the characters entirely believable.
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