All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
When Theodore Finch climbed the school bell tower the last thing he expected to see was someone else there, thinking about ending their life. But there she was, Violet Markey. At first, he’s confused as to why such a beautiful, popular girl would be there and he helps her back to safety. Soon they are spotted and Finch takes it on himself to tell everyone that she saved him, not the other way around and people instantly believe it, especially the classmates that referred to him as ‘freak’.
Finch starts to watch Violet, seeing through her fake smiles and when he discovers that her sister died in a car crash earlier in the year he understands her actions more than most. When the class is set a project to get to know the state of Indiana Finch leaps at the chance to work with Violet.
At first, she still thinks he’s weird but soon she starts to see the world through his eyes and for the first time in months she starts to enjoy her days. Her friends hate him, he changes his style all the time and there’s a million rumours about him but none of that matters because he’s helping her live her life again.
What Violet doesn’t see is the darkness that Finch suffers from and battles with every day. While she rediscovers her life, he struggles to find peace in his own.
I must admit that this novel unnerved me with its opening pages. The character of Finch refers to a five-week period of depression that he appears to be over. This is mentioned a couple of times and I started to wonder if this was going to be a simple tale of ‘teenager beats depression by falling in love and they all live happily ever after.’
I was very wrong. Later it is made clear that depression is a continuing theme in his life and although I wouldn’t wish that on anyone (even a fictional anyone) this came as a relief as I would not have continued reading otherwise, it would have felt too unrealistic. I recommend avoiding investigating this novel too deeply as you may uncover spoilers that would minimise its impact. This novel is pitched at a teenage and young adult market but this doesn’t stop Jennifer Niven from writing a hard-hitting and evocative novel that doesn’t hold back. Violet and Finch are both fun and heart-warming characters that are easily relatable but it really is the last 50 pages of this book that make it something special.
Mental illness is a hot topic in novels, especially YA ones recently but All The Bright Places handles a sensitive issue with tact and style. Ultimately Jennifer Niven has written a hugely enjoyable novel about an important and difficult issue. All The Bright Places deserves all the attention it’s received.
If you enjoyed this check out my review of Asking for It by Louise O’Neil.