Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All The Bright Places Jennifer Niven
All The Bright Places Jennifer Niven cover

Title: All The Bright Places 
Author: Jennifer Niven 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Contemporary, YA 
Publication date: January 6, 2015 
Rating: ★★★★★ 

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.

It seemed to us that his sadness was that of a boy, the voluptuous heedless melancholy of a boy who has still not come down to earth, and moves in the arid, solitary world of dreams.

Diving into this book, I sort of knew where it was heading. I hadn’t been spoiled, but there had been too many status updates of friends speaking of tears and ugly crying not to approach this book with caution. It was a smart move, keeping myself a little detached.

All The Bright Places deals with a really heavy topic. Suicide. Suicide and attempted suicide committed by teens. And I personally think the book does it well. In the beginning the subject is treated very lightly. Like it’s no big deal. Something a person (Theodore Finch) can joke about. I get that this is… shocking. Some people seem to really resent the book for it. But that’s not fair. Because despite it being there, this is really not the main approach of the book. It’s merely Finche’s way of coping. Laughing at every aspect of life, even the dark ones, is his way of surviving and keeping his feet on the floor. 

What if life could be this way? Only the happy parts, none of the terrible, not even the mildly unpleasant. What if we could just cut out the bad and keep the good? This is what I want to do with Violet - give her only the good, keep away the bad, so that good is all we ever have around us.

The dual POV in this book works exceptionally well. We learn the story through the eyes of Finch and Violet. Two very different people who somehow find a connection. Getting to know them through each other’s eyes definitely served the story. 

I liked Theodore Finch. He’s made out to be this insane weirdo with serious issues who can’t ever act normal. Always laughing when he shouldn’t be, making a fool out of himself for apparently no reason. A freak. But I sort of understood the twisted turns his brain made. He needed the act to keep himself from drowning. To not let people see just how much shit was going on underneath the crazy mask he put up. And he did not actually feel suicide was a joke. On the contrary. Whenever he let his guard down, there was so much more to him. He kept the darkest parts of himself hidden - but through his chapters we learned his fears. His insecurities. His silent cries for help. He has by no means had an easy life.

Listen, I’m the freak. I’m the weirdo. I’m the troublemaker. I start fights. I let people down. Don’t make Finch mad, whatever you do. Oh, there he goes again, in one of his moods. Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.

Violet Markey is in some ways his equal, in others his opposite. When we meet her, Finch is the happy, chatty one and she is the one hiding in a shell after her sister’s death. Having a good time is no longer something she believes in and she counts the days as if there will never come an end to them. Meeting Finch changes her. Even though everyone else believes she’s mad for hanging out with him, she soon gets addicted to the feeling of being alive he brings out in her. Together they go looking for mundane bright and happy places and it changes Violet profoundly. He helps her overcome her fears, helps her see the good in her life. They make each other better. 

As a sidenote, I completely melted every time Finch called her Ultraviolet. To him she was a force, the brightest point in his universe. And he never once made it sound cheesy. It was really beautiful. 

I think one of the most important things All The Bright Places teaches us, is that suicide is a choice - but it also isn’t. It’s easy to say that it’s a selfish crime to leave this world and dump all your shit on those left behind. And I get where that is coming from. It is at least partly true. But people committing suicide don’t want to burden their families. And they have been fighting. So hard. Sometimes they feel it is just too much. Sometimes they just can’t. No matter how much they want to. It is not a voluntary choice. We shouldn't exactly understand, but we also shouldn't resent. And I think it is important that people are made aware of that. No one would choose to die if they still believed there was a way out. Suicide finds its roots in mental illness and even people with seemingly perfect lives can suffer. It does not always make sense to outsiders. The mind is tricky. 

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 easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.

Another part I admired was that despite the heavy theme and the considerable depth of the story, I didn’t experience it as an ‘emotional cry book’. It was dark. It was emotional. It made me impossibly sad. I wish there had been another way. Yet it was never unnecessarily cruel. She was not looking for sensation. I applaud Jennifer Niven to show her audience the difficult parts of reality in such a beautiful way. There is a really good balance between dark and good vibes. Violet levels Finch out. It’s ironic how he helps her find the light, when he slowly crashes down himself - but the feeling I had when I finished was not one of overall sadness and despair. The ending proves us there is still hope. Life, no matter how awful it gets, is at least worth fighting for.

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-foot bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you’re standing next to the right person.

The one line on the cover could not have captured the essence of this story more perfectly. 
The story of a girl who learns to live
from a boy who wants to die.

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