Review – “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven

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Quick synopsis: 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. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t read a whole ton in February. I was a bit preoccupied with starting a new semester and finishing my study abroad application for the fall. However, with all the buzz going around about this novel, I made the time to fit it into my schedule. I’ll start by saying that this was marketed toward lovers of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. That’s a high claim, if you ask me! I enjoyed both of those books immensely, so that fact along with the fact that all the reviews seemed to be extremely positive, made me excited to dive in. And my overall thoughts? All the Bright Places wasn’t necessarily bad, but it wasn’t necessarily good either. It was just in-the-middle okay.

Without spoiling anything, I basically predicted the ending just by reading the synopsis. And while a predictable ending isn’t inherently a bad thing, it is when the lead-up isn’t amazingly executed. The predictability left no suspense or excitement. I was waiting for some plot twist to happen that would make me suddenly care, but no such plot twist came. Because of this, I didn’t feel very emotional at the end even though I’m pretty sure I was supposed to. Part of that could have also been because I didn’t connect to the characters. I felt that both Finch and Violet were unoriginal, like every other character in a YA novel with nothing to make them stand out. While Gus and Hazel in TFiOS are both pretentious and overly intellectual for their age, I thought it still worked because the writing and the story were so great. Here, the storyline felt overused and the writing was nothing stand out. That made the pretentious protagonists annoying and boring instead of relatable and exciting.

The last major flaw I had was how it seemed like the author was using depression/mental illness in general as a plot device for these two characters to meet and form a relationship. (A relationship that felt forced and unrealistic, might I add.) I’m all for novels touching on mental illness, and I’ve read quite a few really great ones, but something about the way it was portrayed in this novel rubbed me the wrong way. I felt that it was also very unrealistic that even when Finch’s counselor knew he was suicidal, he didn’t do anything about it. He was more like “Oh, ya know, just typical Finch.” And the way Finch constantly thought about death and suicide almost seemed romanticized. I was not a fan.

On that same note, something I did appreciate was how the novel emphasized that being in a relationship or being in love doesn’t mean that your mental illness will simply vanish. Just because Violet walked into Finch’s life didn’t mean he was suddenly fixed. He still battled his depression every single day, and though Violet did help Finch to have some really good days, he still needed professional help. And he wasn’t getting any. That aspect of the book was done really well.

It may seem like I had too many issues with this book, but I did still enjoy a lot of it. The ending was drawn out, but it gave closure that I appreciated. There was some well-crafted dialogue and sentences. I enjoyed seeing Violet’s grief over her sister’s death because that felt realistic. And for whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to put the book down. That’s certainly never a bad thing.

All the Bright Places is a novel that I’m sure many YA contemporary fans will enjoy, and if the synopsis sounds interesting to you or you like any of what I described, check this book out.

Rating: A solid 3 stars.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought ! Do you agree with me? Disagree? Let’s talk.

Until next time, read on! -Veronica

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