REVIEW: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Format: Paperback, 388 pages
Publication: January 6th 2015 by Knopf/Random House Children’s Books
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: Bullying, Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

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Synopsis

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.

Review

I want to begin by clearing the air: I have very conflicting feelings about this book, in that I love parts of it, and others not so much. Also, this is going to be—and it is—a lengthy article. So if you’re not exactly up to that, you can read the next paragraph and just jump straight to the second-to-the-last one.

All the Bright Places is a thoughtful, provocative tale about mental illness and teenagers, speckled with bons mots. And though it has off-putting turns, it is poignant all the same. Niven has written people. Not just mere characters but actual people, with actual emotions, actual stories, actual battles. So painfully real it left me in a trance after closing the last page.

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other recognizable disease just to make it simple for me and also for them. Anything would be better than the truth.”

The novel switches between perspectives from Finch and Violet. And if you do anything, do not attempt to find out what Finch’s problem is before diving in. I made this mistake (I didn’t research; I was listening to a podcast and bam!) and it marked a substantial difference. Because I imagine it would’ve been more excruciatingly gripping to guess what’s the matter with him. See, Theodore Finch is interesting. He’s compulsive and at times reckless but funny and endearing, to boot. He slips into momentary pretentiousness but that only renders him more charming. Early on, it’s apparent there’s something amiss. And with each passing chapter, the tension only accumulates. I’ve often hear people describe a character as someone who “jumps off the page/screen” and this is a spot-on description for Theodore Finch. Then there’s Violet Markey who—this is not a spoiler—suffers from PTSD. She’s using her sister’s death as a wall around her. I’ve read quite a few books about depression to gather that while for outsiders it looks easy—get out more, talk to someone, get over yourself—it’s really hard to move past the black slug (as Jasmine Warga’s Aysel puts it). And this is the main thing about Violet; she acknowledges the world outside her wall but she’s waist-deep the black slug.

WorthlessStupid. These are the words I grew up hearing. They’re the words I try to outrun, because if I let them in, they might stay there and grow and fill me up and in, until the only thing left of me is worthless stupid worthless stupid worthless stupid freak. And then there’s nothing to do but run harder and fill myself with other words: This time will be different. This time, I will stay awake.”

Another thing that sets All the Bright Places apart is the nuanced backstories. The bad guy isn’t just a bad guy and the good guy isn’t just a good guy. Plus, the parents are present. There’s something to be said of parental roles in young adult fiction and Niven captures the two sides of the spectrum with an informed tone. There is this one harrowing scene, which I hope no one has to experience ever, that sent a sick punch in my guts. And then you get to the author’s note and it’s a whole new level of visceral reaction.

“The smile I give her is the best smile I have, the one that makes my mother forgive me for staying out too late or for just generally being weird.”

I have issues with the romance department. And I don’t want to be the guy who argues that love isn’t necessary in this one but I’m gonna be that guy. Because and especially because it has a beginning I do not buy. It felt like it was somehow forced coming from Finch’s viewpoint. I also think the later parts drag. Of course I want closure but I think it still could’ve been achieved a few pages shorter. Albeit, I’m being highly subjective in here. I’m not saying Niven did wrong. It’s her novel. It’s Finch and Violet’s story. The author has every right.

“”She was my best friend.”
“I’ve never had one. What’s it like?”
“I don’t know. I guess you can be yourself, whatever that means—the best and the worst of you. And they love you anyway. You can fight, but even when you’re mad at them, you know they’re not going to stop being your friend.””

For fans of John Green (yes, the blurb got this one right) and Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes, you want to read this one. All the Bright Places does a great service to this ever shifting and vibrant community by talking about a topic that most people would much rather prefer not to talk about and it’s for this reason that I’m grateful Jennifer Niven had her YA debut.

Fun fact: I never, for once, read before how one’s handwriting is characterized like “chicken scratch.” And yet, this is thrown around inexhaustibly when I was growing up. So there’s that.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adult readers, but she has written four novels for adults—American BlondeBecoming ClementineVelva Jean Learns to Fly, and Velva Jean Learns to Drive—as well as three nonfiction books, The Ice MasterAda Blackjack, and The Aqua Net Diaries, a memoir about her high school experiences. Although she grew up in Indiana, she now lives with her fiancé and literary cats in Los Angeles, which remains her favorite place to wander.

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Have you read All the Bright Places? If not, did I convince you to pick it up? I’m curious: have you noticed the recent rise, in YA specifically, in books dealing with depression and mental illness? And do you have recommendations up your sleeve regarding this? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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23 thoughts on “REVIEW: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

  1. Damn, I love reading your reviews ! I’ve heard a lot about this book, and after having your opinion, I think I’m going to check it out, you made me even more curious about it.
    I did notice the recent rise in YA books dealing with depression and mental illness, and I should definitely check out some of those books more, mainly because I’m very curious about it. I’m not used to reading these kind of stories, but I want to, more! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been meaning to buy this book and after reading your review, I’m looking forward to it even more. I have noticed the rise in books dealing with mental illness – hopefully it continues as it’s important that all people are represented in literature.

    I love your photo at the beginning! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! It paints a smile on my face (and heart) to know that I’ve encouraged someone to pick up a book! And yeah, I believe it will continue.

      Thanks for dropping by! You might also want to check out My Heart and Other Black Holes and Playlist for the Dead!

      Like

  3. I’m happy you liked this book because I’ve been wanting to read it and I think we have similar tastes in books. I’ll definitely have to get a copy now. I’m also very happy that mental illness is more widely talked about especially in young adult literature where it is important to spread the reality of it to its readers, as this is the age where it may first develop. So yay authors!
    Also, why are your reviews always so beautiful? (I might be slightly jealous…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. STOP. LIAM. STOP! I might believe you, you know. *Winks.*

      Yeah, please do read this one! I think it’s very important that more and more authors are writing about depression and mental illness, but what’s even more important is that we, the community, talk about it. Because by doing so, we are turning the Internet into a safe place for people who suffer depression and mental illness and, right now, if I can convince a person that it’s okay, that he can get the help he needs, that even if there’s stigma a lot of other people understand and care… That’s what I’m going for.

      Thanks for dropping by Liam!

      Like

  4. I’m glad you liked this book, too. It was such a moving read for me. I, too, have noticed the spike in mental illness books, and I guess that’s a good thing. It’s just not something I feel comfortable reading very often, but I like that people are becoming more aware of the different struggles others face everyday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a very complicated opinion at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how poignant and well-characterized it is! I just want to hug Finch and (so as not spoil the others) I share Violet’s father’s sentiments at the end. HA! I was so upset!

      Yes. More people talking = safer place for people who suffer depression and mental illness. Have you read My Heart and Other Black Holes and/or Playlist for the Dead? Both are 2015 debuts.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. THIS IS VERY KIND OF YOU TO SAY, MA’AM! I wanted to buy this for so long, but it’s always out-of-stock every time I get a chance. But now I’m just glad I had the chance to read it. And the author’s note right? RIGHT?

      Like

  5. Hmmmm I’m currently on the fence with this book. Although the plot entices me, it’s not exactly new to me. I’ve read my share fair share of John Green-esque novels and it’s starting to get repetitive. But who knows, I might try this one in the future! I’m really curious about the parents – you mentioned they’re present which is a rarity I consider in YA novels these days.

    As always great review AND complimentary photo. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Miggy (can I call you that? Or was it Migs the last time?)! 🙂

      Totally relatable. The problem with having the same flavor over time is that it renders us wary or flavor-burnt (?). But I still encourage you to give this one a shot. If nothing but for the take on depression/mental illness.

      Like

  6. I love reading your reviews! They’re so well-written, so well thought of. Great job! 🙂

    I haven’t read this one but some of my friends have and so far, most of them have said only positive things. The thing that stops me from reading this though is the John Green-esque writing style. I have a love-hate relationship with John Green and the last novel I read that was said to be enjoyed by fans of John Green turned out to be a woozy for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is such a lovely message to come across with today! Thank you, Joy! 🙂 This means more than I can say!

      As for the JG comparison, I understand you. Not because I have a love-hate relation with the author, because I absolutely love him, but because I know how misleading this kind of things can be. I honestly believe that if-you-like-X-then-try-Y ONLY works if (a) the person giving the recommendation knows you personally or (b) you trust his/her taste. Which makes me wonder what this “woozy” book you had recently.

      There is this one article I read. It’s a review of Winger from… Gaaah. I forgot if it’s Time or something else. It mentions how there’s this group of YA books that are categorized as GreenLit (because John Green is like the emperor of this type of books). So, what I’m trying to point out, I guess, is that marketing people comparing a work to John Green is sort of broad (unless he/she mentions a specific title). I’m not making sense, am I? Just, if ever you get around to actually reading ATBP, tell me what you think?

      Like

  7. I’ve read this book. And it left me depressed for more than a week. That was how it affects me. This book made me sad.
    Btw, I would recommend Me Before You, if you haven’t read it already.

    Like

    1. Heey. Thanks for the recommendation! My best friend told me to read it too, I just gotten around to it. And, yeah, a lot of readers had terrible book hangovers after closing All the Bright Places, I think. Thank you for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have read this book i dont know how many times.. i love it 😭❤️ its the best seriously! 👌🏻 if you havent read it, you NEED to. its simply perfection. I cried so much until i fell asleep, it affected me so much. its the best 👌🏻❤️

    Like

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