“All the Bright Places” is a young adult novel written by Jennifer Niven and released on Jan. 6, 2015.
I’ve read a ton of YA at this point and honestly I have become very picky with it, especially now that my teenage years are behind me. I am not as interested in those fantasy worlds that I used to love in “The Hunger Games” or the Grisha trilogy. I like to read more realistic settings across any time period. This novel hit me in several good ways.
“All the Bright Places” takes place in the fictional town of Bartlett, Indiana. The year is ambiguous, but due to the popularity of Facebook, lack of Twitter and limited cell phone usage, it’s probably around 2007-09. The novel has two similar-yet-unique protagonists: Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theo struggles to find how he fits into the world while often acting out amongst his peers and being labeled a “freak.” Violet is a popular by association girl who has recently lost her older sister in a terrible car accident that she feels responsible for. Where do they both meet? The top edge of the school bell tower.
From there, the novel becomes about a school assignment where they work together to explore their state and, in the process, figure things out about themselves through each other. They fall in love, deal with loads of family drama and go through their own ups and downs.
I found both of the protagonists to be really interesting and well developed. I was never sad to be switching PoV. They both have similar thoughts about life and contemplating suicide, but their vastly different backgrounds, behavior and social status changes how they approach things. Theo is highly energetic and unpredictable while Violet is more low-key and contemplative. I found Theo’s home/family life to be captivating despite the rather bleakness of it. He swings back and forth between violence, escapism and these sudden poetic expositions. He refuses to be held down and often distances himself from others so that he doesn’t hurt them in some way. He does everything he is capable of to make sure people remember him for something. Violet is more willing to acknowledge depression to herself than Theo. She tries her hardest to blend into society while keeping her image intact. She often avoids attention and uses writing to express herself freely.
Niven makes great use out of the world she decided to work with. This novel will take you on a journey to many of Indiana’s small wonders and unexpected landmarks. While there is no particular villain, “All the Bright Places” has many moving characters with their own agendas and purposes within the story.
I was very taken aback by how the novel actually plays out. It is definitely not what I expected halfway through. Whether that is a good or bad thing – is unanswerable – but I feel a little disappointed with it. Maybe Niven was just shooting for that hard reality, but I am worried that the message of the novel faltered somewhat due to the choices made. “All the Bright Places” is about the road to recovery for people suffering from depression and other mental illnesses. The climax puts the novel several steps back and then tries to slingshot ahead with a rather long resolution that could have been reduced.
Overall, I still love this book. It is the kind of novel that kept me so interested in the characters that I would gladly read a sequel just to know how their lives played out later on in the years.
You can find “All the Bright Places” on Amazon as well as most other booksellers. It is definitely head and shoulders above the sea of YA novels that are currently flooding the market.