Review of All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All-the-Bright-PlacesAll the Bright Places puzzled me. While reading it, I was never sure what to think. After reading it, I’m still not sure what to think.

The story certainly shines with its own light. It’s about two teens, Violet and Finch, who meet each other on the roof of the school tower during a rough spot in their lives. It explores the irony of someone wanting to die but teaching someone else how to live and is based off a true experience the author had. It’s cute and funny–hitting upon some deep topics about loss and recovery in an elegant way.

And yet, I struggled to reconcile myself with the ending. I couldn’t find the grace note. Perhaps it’s there and I was just too busy trying to convince myself that it was all a big mistake–everything was okay–to notice it. But I’m undecided about whether to delve back into the pages to look for it. I did love it, I’m just not sure I want to put myself back in Violet’s shoes.

What works: The characters are quirky and awesome. The story catches Violet in a really difficult time when she’s recovering from her older sister’s death, but her stubbornness and sweetness almost immediately becomes apparent to the reader. She likes to write, but she’s lost the words to use and isn’t sure she deserves to find them again. Finch is a strange boy; I love the way his mind works when he’s theorizing and being all philosophical about the world. He has his own store of stubbornness and a fair amount of optimism, but, although he doesn’t show it that often, he seems lost as a person. He frequently changes his persona and disappears for days (and sometimes weeks) at a time. It’s these two characters and their interactions that really make the story brilliant. Although, the plot’s not bad either.

What I would change: I would try to convey more of Finch’s thoughts. As a reader, I like to know the reasons behind a character’s actions. A decent portion of the chapters are from Finch’s point of view, so it would make sense to stick in some more details about Finch’s view of the world. As it is, his action at the end just seems a little sudden. But maybe that’s the real-life side showing itself–we’re all just people making random choices about which we may or may not realize the consequences. And the page full of self-help information at the back was a little… scary?

As a whole–All the Bright Places is a nice book. If you’re like me and enjoy emotionally intense stories, you’ll find it worth your time. Just remember to take some deep breaths.

“‘Lovely’ is a lovely word that should be used more often.” –Theodore Finch

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