All the Bright Places is a beautiful but sad story about two teenagers; Violet and Finch and alternates chapters from their points of view. The book opens as they meet on the ledge of their school bell tower, intending to commit (or contemplating committing) suicide. Shortly after, they become partners on a Geography project where they’ll explore Indiana together. Slowly they begin to fall in love.
While the subject matter is a bit heavy at times, All the Bright Places is actually a light-hearted novel. One that surprised me by how much I enjoyed it.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. Both are suffering for different reasons – Violet is devastated after her sister died in a car accident where she survived. And Finch suffers from depression and has been abused by his father for much of his life. So 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.
I really enjoyed the changing points of view and thought it worked well for the story. I loved how each voice was well represented and often portrayed how different words and actions have profoundly different interpretations to other people. I loved the contrast of Finch’s chapters counting up and Violet’s counting down.
While a familiar high school setting, I thought Niven put enough realistic diversity through the story. Violet is popular while Finch isn’t and so we get to experience both ends of high school life. We get to see both characters grow over the course of the school year.
Finch was really charismatic and unique. His wild swings from mania to depression with no triggers I found realistic – though extremely sad when he internalizes losing his identity. He is intelligent and dynamic even when observing his obsessive contemplations on ways to commit suicide. He shows different faces for different moods, trying on different ‘hats’ as personalities as he tries to figure himself out.
Violet keeps her suffering inside and puts up appearances to her friends/adults in her life. I found it really interesting the way Niven portrayed the ‘allowances’ people make for Violet and that she abuses sometimes.
All the Bright Places explores themes of mental illness, suicide, love, and friendship. It’s a beautiful story that explores death and the aftermath of grief. Niven shows some of the different avenues of support, getting deep into the emotion and stigma surrounding some of these. She also shows the impact that grief/mental illness has on families and the people around us.
I found this to be more a book for people whose friends have committed suicide or suffer from depression/mental issues. While it was (I thought) a good representation about how it actually feels to be depressed – some of the thoughts and processes a person can go through and how they can depict themselves to the world. However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone actually experiencing some of these feelings as it doesn’t solve or promise enough hope when dealing with some of the issues brought up in the book.
Niven, in fact, portrays some of the methods and means of dealing with depression in a negative light, in particular with a lot of the adults in the story. Finch objects to being ‘labeled’ bipolar and treats any medication with disdain, which no one contradicts or discusses any of the benefits with being on anti-depressants. I don’t know that I liked the idea that both teens dealing with depression/mental illness didn’t have a suitable adult figure with which to try and deal with some of their feelings.
I enjoyed this much more than I thought it would! While an easy read it deals with some heavy stuff, causing me to read a little slower to appreciate the story a little more. While it’s been compared to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars I think that’s more to appeal to the person after a tear-jerker. Rather I think fans of 13 Reason’s Why or Paper Towns will like it. The ending was pretty unexpected and I really liked the ways both Finch and Violet tried to fight their sadness in different ways. But also fundamentally not really understanding it. I also loved the adventures they went on exploring Indiana and had me looking up a few of the cool things they did!