NIVEN, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. Knopf. Jan. 2015. 400p. Tr $15. ISBN 9780385755887.
Gr 10 Up—Violet and Finch’s separate life paths first converge six feet above the ground, on the four-inch ledge of their school’s bell tower. When the two are then paired up for a geography project, they begin to heal from past tragedies and slowly bond as they learn to see what is wonderful about their native Indiana, and about life. But some demons simply can’t be avoided, and the desire to live can in itself be fatal. The true mark of a well-written book isn’t a shocking ending; it’s when the story has an ending you can see coming from a mile away, and yet when it transpires, it still breaks your heart. Niven’s foreshadowing and the book’s description was such that I knew what major plot point would occur even before I started reading, but I kept reading anyway because I was that invested in the story. And even though I could predict many important occurrences in the book, Niven constantly surprised me with her execution of the plot points I expected and the introduction of several smaller plot twists that I didn’t anticipate.
I also appreciated Niven’s emphasis on characterization—every character was fleshed out to some degree, sufficient for their role in the novel—and her humane but accurate depiction of mental illness. Finch’s symptoms were not sugarcoated or romanticized; they were simply there, clearly a part of him but by no means defining him. My one complaint is that the beginning of the book moved rather slowly; however, this was less of an issue the second time I read it, as many of the small details mentioned throughout the introduction become important later on. Though I enjoyed the protagonists and the romance between them, I was most compelled by Finch’s individual story line. Violet was a good and wonderful person in her own right, but it was Finch who drew me in, partly because of his charisma and partly because I could see how hard he was fighting to stay awake, to stay alive. Niven documents his descent into instability in such a way that readers can clearly see what is happening, and yet we never stop hoping that somehow, he’ll find a way to overcome his illness just as he helped Violet to overcome her grief and truly live life again.
I would recommend this book for teens and adults, particularly fans of Rainbow Rowell, Ned Vizzini, and John Green. All the Bright Places has many parallels with Eleanor and Park by Rowell, though the two novels ultimately differ in tone and theme.—Emily L., age 17