Book Review: All The Bright Places

18460392Author: Jennifer Niven

Book Title: All The Bright Places

Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary

Type: Stand Alone

Format: Hardcover, 388 Pages

Publishing Date: January 6, 2015

Summary: The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

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. [summary from Goodreads]

1361725_origMy Thoughts: I finished this book a few nights ago and I’ve spent several days trying to decide what to say about it, as well as some time crying for the story and for the beautiful tribute Jennifer Niven gave to her mother in the acknowledgements section. Directly after finishing the book, I jotted down all of my feelings about this book, as well as my thoughts on some other reviews that annoyed me, and then I realized that I was getting too caught up in all of that so I took a step back. This review isn’t about the opinions of others or my feelings toward those opinions. No, it’s about the shiny wonderment that is All The Bright Places and the perfection of the two main characters, Violet (which is also coincidentally my mother’s name) and Finch. So, let me start there.

Violet is the type of girl that makes you feel as if you not only know her personally, but in some ways you actually are her. She is a writer who has lost her voice (in the written sense) since the tragic and untimely death of her older sister, Eleanor. This once popular girl has begun to curl into herself since the accident that spared her life but took her best friend, and everyone around her expects her to just move on with her life. Even her parents, who actually remind me of my own in many ways, push her (subtly) to get back on the horse, so to speak, and live her life as she once did. Well, considering that this tragedy has completely altered her, there isn’t a “normal” life to return to and instead she must forge a new path for herself in order to feel whole again. That is where Finch comes in and turns her world upside down, which ends up being absolutely right side up.

Finch is a deeply troubled boy who is always in search of his true self. One day he will be 80s Finch, another day he’ll be British Finch, and another he’ll be Bad Boy Finch. His true identity is actually unknown to him in a way because he never feels the same way twice and therefore his outer appearance must change to adapt to his inner changes. I was actually reminded of an old boyfriend that I had in high school who I ended up just being friends with after our brief attempt at dating. Just like Finch, he too had piercing blue eyes, a shifting personality, deep depression, and was one of the smartest and undervalued people I’ve ever met. His family ignored him and treated him as if he was just acting out and wasn’t in need of help. Eventually he got the help he needed and discovered that he wanted to turn his artistic passion into a career in fashion design. It made me smile to think of him because, unlike Finch, he was able to find people that saw his issues and realized that he was in a situation that he couldn’t dig himself out of alone. The problem for Finch was that because of his quirkiness and his attitude about life and death, his friends and family felt as if he was just playing around and when he would disappear they’d brush it off as, “oh, that’s just the way Finch is.” His classmates were sort of the same but instead of just brushing off his behavior, some of them bullied him and the majority of the staff treated him like a problem they just didn’t want to invest time in working through. The only person who ever truly reached out to him at school, but just didn’t reach far enough, was his counselor. Unfortunately, because Finch was unreceptive to the offer of help, as well as the counselor only being able to do so much given his position and the potential legalities involved, nothing much came from that relationship.

For a while there, I felt hopeful for the story to end happily, but I just knew that it wouldn’t. I don’t mean for this to be a spoiler but when I saw that it was compared to TFiOS, I just knew that heartache was headed my way. Immediately I loved Finch but it took me a bit of time to warm up to Violet, mainly because of how she was treating him in the beginning. However, once they get together, which was inevitable from page one, it’s one of those relationships that has darkness at its core, whimsical cuteness on the periphery, and you just can’t help but root for them. These two people are both flawed, like all humans are, and they are essentially crying out for help. The only comfort they find is with each other, and that is even taking into consideration how Finch pushed Violet out of her comfort zone with tough love because he felt that she had too much to live for and shouldn’t give up. Like TFiOS and Eleanor & Park, the characters written here are smart, quirky, and so endearing that you wish you knew them personally, at least I do. Their issues are painfully real and their struggle to overcome the pain of it all is one that many who have battled depression have gone through. Because the book is told in alternating views, it allows readers to not only get to know the characters first hand, but also to see them both through each others eyes, which is crucial to the overall development of the story. Personally, when I first saw that this was being compared to not only John Green but also Rainbow Rowell, who are two of my favorite authors, I felt like that was a tall order. But the truth is, it wasn’t overstating anything at all. Jennifer Niven wrote a lovely book here filled with pain that is all too real and “all the colors in one, at full brightness.” I can only hope that novels like these begin much needed conversations about mental illness, depression, suicide, and bullying.

Rating: 5 Flowers

Quotable Moments: 

“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.”

“I do my best thinking at night when everyone else is sleeping. No interruptions. No noise. I like the feeling of being awake when no one else is.”

“I’d like to live in a world designed by Theodore Finch.”

“I am rooted, but I flow. All gold, flowing . . .”

“I walk through the black Indiana night, under a ceiling of stars, and think about the phrase “elegance and euphoria,” and how it describes exactly what I feel with Violet. For once, I don’t want to be anyone but Theodore Finch, the boy she sees. He understands what it is to be elegant and euphoric and a hundered different people most of them flawed and stupid, part asshole, part screwup, part freak, a boy who wants to be easy for the folks around him so that he doesn’t worry them and, most of all, easy for himself. A boy who belongs – here in the world, here in his own skin. He is exactly who I want to be and what I want my epitaph to say: The Boy Violet Markey Loves.”

“He says, “ ‘Lovely’ is a lovely word that should be used more often.”

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