4 stars · fiction · young adult

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: An important book about mental illness and suicide


All the Bright Places

author : jennifer niven

pages : 387

memorable quote : The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.

favorite character : violet

summary :

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning!
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.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

review :

Wow. This book.

For starters, I snagged this book at a library sale in perfect condition for only $1 and, after vaguely recognizing the cover and summary, thought it was a brilliant deal. Now I’m sure that I’ve gotten the better end of it, because I feel like this is a book you’ll need to read more than once. I’m sure in a year or so I’ll return to it, in spite of how difficult it was to read. This is a book about mental illness, suicide, and how those who haven’t personally experienced either may react to these important issues.

I think that an important thing to realize going into this is that the book isn’t perfect, but for the most part it’s realistic. Finch and Violet are both exaggerated and unrealistic in that they don’t feel like actual teenagers. Like a lot of YA, these teens are extremely eloquent, seem able to run around wherever they want at whatever hours of the day they want, and are obsessed with ‘cool’ things like 80s music, records, and the online equivalent of zines. It’s kind of annoying that all of the things that YA main characters scoff at are the ‘normal’ things that teens do, and it’s like they need to reach back thirty years to really express themselves. Honestly, I’m not sure how much of this phenomenon is the fact that most YA authors haven’t been young adults for a long while.

Another important thing about this book is how mental illness can be perceived and ignored by adults AND  young adults. Those who are ‘there to help’ might not always be there to help. For example, guidance counselors may not catch the same warning signs that another trained professional might. A friend might accept those signs as just part of their personality. When something might finally be seen as more than just a teenager acting out, getting into trouble–typical teen angst–it might be too late. In reading a few reviews, I could see how frustrated some readers were that no one was helping Finch or Violet even though in the first chapter they literally meet on the school’s roof because they’re both contemplating suicide. I was just heartbroken by how realistic it is that nothing is really done about it. People are so good at hiding what they’re feeling and what’s really going on in their heads. There’s such a stigma about acknowledging mental illness that most people don’t want to contemplate it about themselves, let alone suggest its existence to the people surrounding them.

Let’s talk about Finch and Violet’s friendship. It really isn’t healthy, even though it brings out great things (mostly hope) for both of them. The big red flag for me is how much Finch is bullied at school, most prominently by Violet’s closest friends, and how she does nothing to speak against this. Even in the portion of chapters that are through her POV she never mentally acknowledges that he shouldn’t be spoken to in this way, if she’s too afraid to speak up. In this case, silence speaks louder than anything else. Another wholly unrealistic aspect is how willing Violet is to go along with Finch’s random adventures, even at times like 3 A.M. She hardly knows this guy, owes him nothing, knows her parents will never trust her again if she’s caught–but she risks everything for him.

This book was nearly impossible to put down once I started to read it. The writing was captivating, the chapters alternating between viewpoints flowed together incredibly. I loved reading about the roadtrips (and now want to plan my own trip around my own state doing crazy things that no one really knows about). I loved that this was a story about two teenagers trying to take care of each other and seeing how much the support of just one person can affect someone.

I’d recommend this book to anyone. It’s a fast, meaningful read that will leave you thinking about the major topics discussed in the novel.

4/5 stars