Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Alfred Knopf
Publishing Date: January 2015
All The Bright Places is titled ironically since this book is based on teen suicide, which is clearly not a bright and happy subject. We start the novel where Theodore Finch, the school’s “freak show,” finds his way on the roof of the school where he talks Violet Markey, the school’s “wounded-yet-popular-girl-who’s-sister-died,” down from jumping off the edge. In the process he finds himself attracted to her and they end up forming a friendship. Later on they’re paired together during a class assignment and end up wandering Indiana together – but none of that really matters.
Every time I look back at the synopsis of this book I question if the author of the synopsis read the same book as me. They say that Theodore Finch, our protagonist, is fascinated by death… which isn’t true. I devoted myself to understanding Finch throughout this book, and I can tell you this, he is not fascinated with death. Finch is fascinated with life, he’s consumed by this need to evaluate life and how people lived. He looks at the life that lead up to the death, and then considers how those people exited this world. I can understand how it would be thought that his infatuation lies with death, but in reality, it lies with life, and what he can do to keep living it.
Violet is a young girl who, one night after a car accident, found herself an only child, having lost her older sister Eleanor. Nine months ago she down spiraled into a depression and just hasn’t seemed to have gotten out of that rut. She used to be a provocative party girl, but after Eleanor died she became a recluse. She used to be ambitious, though. With dreams of attending NYU to pursue her passion of writing, she feels guilty for being the one who has the chance to pursue her dreams while Eleanor is dead and gone. She’s shy, attitudinal, catty at times, and would rather be alone.
Finch, on the other hand is different. He, too, is battling depression but he shows it in a different way. While Violet drew in on herself, Finch is ready to take on the world. He’s a narcissistic, attitudinal, dramatic, attention-seeking, adrenaline junky. That being said, however, he’s at times incredibly deep. As someone who personally struggles with an “invisible disease,” autoimmune disorders, when Finch said “It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting,” I connected with him on an intimate level. He struck a chord with me in that moment because it’s a painfully true statement that I’ve lived my entire life.
He’s not entirely arrogant and self-centered. He has a huge heart, and it’s seen in intimate moments that could easily be overlooked. At one point Violet experiences an embarrassing moment and to take the eyes off of her he purposely draws attention to, and embarrasses himself. With divorced parents, a homophobic abusive father, and absent-minded, victimized mother, and two sisters, it’s obvious why Finch is hurting. His family has been torn apart, his father hates his existence, his mom barely notices his existence, and the entire town knows him as the “trouble-making freak.”
Clearly you can tell that Niven did an admirable job in creating well-rounded, fully-developed characters. These two people felt real to me. By the end of the book Niven had taken me on a journey with Finch and Violet and I didn’t want that journey to end. I shed tears by the end of the book because I needed more of them, I needed them to continue on, but it was clear this would be a standalone.
The book isn’t something that’s designed to be a “debby downer.” It’s focus is on learning the importance and value that our lives have, and what we can do with it. All The Bright Places has the reader experience a journey through the eyes of kids but it touches on a deep subject about the meaning of life, and what we should focus on while we are here. Don’t get me wrong, this book will require tissues within the vicinity when you read it, but the author had a purpose and it was well communicated. I’ve got a hangover from this read because it left me with so much knowledge, and genuinely touched my heart in ways I wasn’t expecting.
I would most definitely recommend this book because it took me on a journey and invoked emotional responses from me. Niven hit me in the feels, looped my heart on a roller coaster, and had my heart beating out of my chest several times. If you’re ready for a ride you’ll never want to end, and a novel that’s easy to connect to it’s characters, this book is for you.