[I received a copy of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]
When I heard that Jennifer Niven’s novel was being compared to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park AND has already been optioned for film starring Elle Fanning, I knew I had to give it a shot. I went into it expecting it to be a cute young adult novel about two teens finding comfort in each other; what I didn’t expect was how emotionally affecting and important its message to its readers (teens or otherwise) would be.
The publisher’s synopsis: The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this compelling, exhilarating, and beautiful story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.
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.
All The Bright Places affected me in a similar way that Miriam Toews’ Writers’ Trust-winning All My Puny Sorrows did. While Toews’ Yoli and Elf grapple with the idea of assisted suicide, Finch and Violet cope with Finch’s depression and Violet’s guilt regarding her older sister’s fatal car crash. These themes of loneliness and loss really resonated with me, especially in the way it is presented to readers.
Like All My Puny Sorrows, depression and the notion of responsibility are subjects that are approached carefully yet surely in All The Bright Places. It is clear that Niven is urging reader’s to understand these difficult topics with an open mind, to eliminate the stigma attached to what really are mental health issues. In All The Bright Places, we learn that it is not productive to prescribe blame (to ourselves or others) when we survive traumatic events. What we can and should do is try to find at least one reason to keep going every day, and lend a helping hand or listening ear to whoever may need it.
That’s not to say that this book is all serious and no fun, because that’s not true at all. At the heart of it, All The Bright Places is about two teens who learn to open their hearts, go on wonderful adventures (or “wanderings,” as they call it), and enjoy life day by day. I loved watching Finch and Violet’s friendship grow; seeing them push each other to try new things and experience the world together warmed my heart and made me want to go and discover more of this beautiful planet along with them.
Even though this is not always the easiest book to read – especially if you’ve dealt with losses yourself – I think it is absolutely important. I am glad that 2015 is starting off with such a strong stigma-fighting book, especially because it is aimed toward teens who may feel too alone to talk to someone about their issues. I feel extremely strongly about this book’s message, and urge you all to give it a chance. (My admiration for this book has me worried about seeing the movie adaptation, but I suppose that’s just a risk I’ll have to take later down the line.) Seriously, please read this book. And then go read All My Puny Sorrows if you haven’t already.
Verdict: A book I would urge anyone to read, but especially, especially teens who feel misunderstood or isolated. There are many helpful resources listed at the end of the book, and I hope that they make at least one person feel less alone.
Read if: Anything in my review resonates with you, you loved All My Puny Sorrows like I did, you want to fall in love with two wonderful characters who will warm your heart.
Have you read All The Bright Places or All My Puny Sorrows? Do you think you’ll give them a try?