Genre: Fiction, Romance
Book Jacket 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. This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.”
Review: I’ll preface this entire review by saying that All the Bright Places actually made me cry. Which pretty much guarantees at least four out of five stars because books very rarely make me cry. I figured out very early on what was likely going to happen, but that didn’t stop me from feverishly flipping through the pages until my suspicions were actually confirmed. As Niven’s first dabble in YA fiction (she more typically can be found writing adult fiction and nonfiction), All the Bright Places definitely succeeded on several different levels. I particularly liked the “wander Indiana” subplot. What initially starts out as a class assignment to find two interesting landmarks in Indiana gradually turns into Violet and Finch’s scavenger hunt to discover as many unique, bizarre, and hidden destinations as possible.
Violet: “Why do you want me to do this project with you anyway?”
Finch: “Because our mountain is waiting.”
All the Bright Places does offer a compelling look into how mental illness can manifest itself in different aspects of daily life and also tackles some very prevalent issues in society today, including bullying, suicide, and the stigma associated with mental illness. Unfortunately, I couldn’t justify giving All the Bright Places a perfect five star review because the story didn’t necessarily feel authentic. This novel rings too true to several other YA fiction predecessors, including The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park. While the writing is good and the characters are likeable, the plot feels somewhat contrived and oftentimes left me very frustrated. But Niven obviously got me to care enough about her story that I cried at the end. All in all, I think people will enjoy All the Bright Places if they go into this book with the expectation that it will be John Green- and Rainbow Rowell-esque, but also has its own merits and spots of brightness.