All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven, 2015, Penguin, 378 pages.
Trigger Warning: This book contains the theme of suicide
A few years ago I heard a song called Self Conclusion by the Spill Canvas. The song is the story of two people who meet on a cliff, both intending to jump. One convinces the other to give life another chance with him; this book reminded me of that song.
The story revolves around two characters Violet and Finch who meet at the top of their school’s bell tower. Violet has just lost her sister and is struggling to adjust to life without her and Finch has dark moods where her often contemplates taking his own life. All the Bright Places is the story of what happens when they become friends.
This is not a book that will necessarily grab you from the start, it didn’t for me but I was glad that I read it because All the Bright Places is far from a disappointment. The story is dark but at times the characters make you smile, you keep reading because you hope that their lives get better.
Finch is a character you can really root for. He is the underdog, the school outcast who falls for one of the popular girls, who before a chance meeting on a bell tower, was almost oblivious to his existence. Instead of proving to her that he is not the “freak” people call him, Finch shows her that they are not as different as she thinks and maybe that is not such a bad thing. However it can be hard to get a hold on Finch as a character, you can see that he is clever, sweet and likable underneath what I call “the many faces of Finch”, there is “80s Finch”, “Badass Finch” and more. I really didn’t like this, it came off as fake.
Violet is a survivor. She survives the crash that killed her sister and by the end of the book she survives much more, one cannot but admire her bravery and resolve. I really felt for her when she couldn’t write the way she used to, she felt as though she had been changed and she didn’t know how to deal with it, Finch helps her find herself again. On the other hand, I didn’t like either character’s constant quoting, I understand that they found comfort in other people’s words and perhaps it is also designed to add depth to the characters but I found it to be annoying and off-putting and it added nothing to the character or the story. Over all though, I liked both characters.
Violet and Finch explore their relationship through a school project. They are to visit and write about two interesting places in Indiana, where the live. They call these trips “wanderings”. I loved the sense of adventure this gave the book, escapism for the reader and the characters.
There are many novels out there that glamorize suicide and mental illness, this is not one of them. There is a romantic element to the story, the relationship between the characters but there is also a harsh seriousness to the book, the reader is reminded constantly of the pain both characters are in and the hardships in their lives. While writing this book review, I googled a quote I had lost track of and I found that there were so many people who had used the characters names as usernames, especially Violets. People relate to characters like Violet and Finch, who have lost their way or who struggle on a daily basis just to live, it is a comfort when somebody else writes about your feelings, it prove that you are neither crazy nor alone.
I would give All the Bright Places 3/5 stars which I would call good. It is definitely not a book for younger readers. The book is both entertaining and dark, at times bleak and upsetting but it also makes you think. it has a couple of minor, for-mentioned faults , which is why I haven’t given it a higher rating. Over all I liked the book and would encourage anyone who did not finish it to give it another chance.