All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (January 6, 2015)
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary
Interest: Student recommendation
Synopsis (from the Book Jacket)
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches for–and manages to find–something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school–six stories above the ground–it’s unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising–just like life.
Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself–a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.
I was a little nervous to pick this book up because I’d heard so many mixed reviews about it, but when three of my students told me I had to read it this semester, I decided it was time to finally just pick it up and see how I liked it myself. I am glad that I read it and didn’t just listen to some of the reviews on GoodReads.
When I heard that the book is about two teens who meet at the top of their school’s bell tower and then embark on a school project to explore their state together, I was immediately drawn in. There aren’t enough young adult books that talk about mental health issues, and I think these types of books are important–especially for teens.
I feel like Niven gives an honest portrayal of mental health in All the Bright Places. I definitely understand some of the reviews that question how she handles depression and suicide within her book, but I appreciate the fact that she doesn’t sugar coat it or glorify it (at least I didn’t feel she did). I know some people are upset with how she handles mental health in her book, but it is obvious why she handles things the way she does when you actually read the book, which I can appreciate. I think Niven was brave to write this book how she did; the ending becomes especially poignant after reading Niven’s author note at the end of the book. Do yourself a favor and make sure that you read this after you’ve finished the book, especially if you’re upset with the ending.
As far as the characters went, I was a little disappointed in their development. I felt like I didn’t get to know who the real Finch actually was, but I guess that could have been the point. As a character, he was just so all over the place. I liked Violet’s character development much more, but I had a hard time relating to her and felt like too many of her decisions seemed childish. I think this is more a result of me getting older and struggling to accept some of the irrational decisions made by teen characters. I think I would have been able to relate to her much better when I was a teenager.
My biggest problem with this book comes in the form of the parents. I had an incredibly difficult time with both Violet’s and Finch’s parents, but especially with Finch’s mom. She becomes extremely worried at points only to become totally aloof at others. This seemed more like a convenient way to drive the plot (which created too many holes) than something that actually made sense.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I read it in just a few days and couldn’t put it down. Though it was predictable and unbelievable at times, I appreciate the author for writing this book the way she did (even if that’s not the most popular opinion).
Trigger Warnings/Flags: suicide/depression, sex, language