Book Review # 9: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Number of Pages: 388
Date Published: January 6, 2015
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.
Where do I even begin? I have more than 75 notes and highlighted words on my tab. I’m trying to stay composed as I type this review because to be honest, I am at a complete loss after reading this book.
It’s just so upsetting and so outrageously wonderful at the same time that I figured I’d have to tell everybody else about it before the inevitable happens i.e. (1) I spout some more nonsense, (2) critics antagonize fans because the synopsis mentioned The Fault in our Stars and Eleanor and Park, and (3) the movie ruins it all.
I know I have to explain it in a more comprehensive way so let’s start with the story. Meeting on the ledge of a bell tower at school was definitely not one of life’s best moments for Finch and Violet. Finch’s mind is just too full of ideal ways to die while Violet refuses to dwell on anything else apart from her sister’s death. But for some unknown reason, they find each other there, on the ledge of a bell tower, both having a faint idea of the other’s intention.
Then Finch moves back and reaches out to Violet and Violet hesitantly accepts. She finds Finch weird, talkative, and mysterious while she remains adamant and guarded. Despite their conflicting personalities, Finch and Violet gradually open their worlds to one another. They play with words and wander to places, each time finding comfort in the other’s company.
It would have been all right if it ended there. Yes! Who doesn’t want a dark-turned-to-light/normal, romantic kind of story right? But I guess Jennifer Niven considered this too dull that she decided that playing with her readers’ emotions seemed like a better option. So this is what she does, and I hate to say this, but she does one hell of a good job.
I will not talk about the story or the characters any longer. I do not want to accidentally mention anything that would lessen the excitement for anyone else who decides to read this. Let me just briefly tell you what you should look forward to:
Unconventional themes: The synopsis mentioned death so we get the idea that majority of the events in this story hover on the dark side. However, keep in mind that this story utilizes a different approach from that of other books such as Thirteen Reasons Why, Speak, Wintergirls, or other novels that contain not-so-easy-to-digest subject matters.
The struggle is real: It doesn’t just touch on suicide or mental illness, it dwells on it. It illustrates the characters’ feelings better than any novel I’ve read. It allows you to feel the army of thoughts that they struggle with each day. It gives you a clearer picture of what comprises the ugliness of today’s society – stereotypes and labels among others.
The intense urge to get a map and wander around Indiana: Speaking of which I have to get back to my tab so I can enumerate the places the characters went off to. Truth be told, it was not as detailed as other travel novels but it was enough to have me brimming with excitement.
An emotional roller-coaster ride: The last story I used this phrase on was The Storyteller and even that has a completely different atmosphere from this one. Come to think of it, All the Bright Places is probably the first YA novel to receive this phrase from me so know that I am very serious when I say this – Be on your guard because your emotions may get out of hand.
Consider all these things I’ve mentioned as words of warning as well as demands to read the book. When you do decide to read it, read it with an open mind. Read it despite knowing that it might drain you emotionally because as strange as it may seem, this is actually one of the best things about a book.
I think that as a reader, if you ever find your feelings being tossed around, give your compliments to the author because this means that his/her story was able to touch some if not most parts of you and you are as I quote one of the characters in this novel, “forever changed.”
On another note, I don’t understand why people see a need to compare this novel with The Fault in our Stars. You may find some similar elements here and there but to me, this book has an entirely different theme and should be read without being under the shadow of other novels i.e. TFIOS and Eleanor and Park. So just read it without these books in mind, please.
As for the themes, indeed, suicide as a premise is relatively gloomy but this novel is not just about that. Sure, a lot of similar themes are present. There’s emptiness, struggle, anxiety, bullying, regret, and mental illness in general but like any other story, there are also themes of hope, acceptance, friendship, and even finding light and love in the most unexpected places.
To me, this novel is a gift to anyone who reads it. It will make you fall in love. It will make you want to fight, to eliminate the stigma that creeps in today’s society. It will make you ponder on a lot of things. It will make you smile, laugh, cry, and cry some more. But in the end, it will change something in you. Because even if it does break your heart, it will leave you with enough strength to put the pieces together yourself.
So I say, go ahead and read this book. Get your favorite drink (maybe, some sparkling grape, some wine, or some coffee), sit down comfortably on your couch or on the porch, and don’t forget to have a box of tissues ready. You’ll need it.
Favorite quotes from All the Bright Places:
The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.
You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.
The problem with people is they forget that most of the time it’s the small things that count.
We do not remember days, we remember moments.
You have been in every way all that anyone could be.… If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.
I learned that there is good in this world, if you look hard enough for it. I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257 bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you’re standing next to the right person.