Books

All the Bright Places Review: Jennifer Niven’s first YA novel leaves an indelible mark

All the Bright Places is a book that was bound to break my heart from the first sentence. If you can relate to the touchy subjects being discussed in this story, you might be able to see yourself in its pages. This is more than a romance novel- while there are many sweet moments between the story’s protagonists, there is still tension, drama, and the battling of demons to be discovered in this complex coming of age story. 

The book starts off with two main characters, Violet and Finch, at the top of the school’s bell tower, both not planning on going back down the stairs that led them there.  Finch is hanging over the railing, shouting to his classmates, but the crowd doesn’t seem to care. Finch realizes that Violet, a cheerleader who he’s only ever seen around school, is on the other side and goes to rescue her. Their classmates do notice Violet, and since Finch doesn’t have a reputation to protect, he shouts to convince everyone that she is saving him instead of the reverse. 

After the incident, Violet tries everything to avoid Finch, while he is doing the exact opposite. When there is a project assigned in their geography class, Finch jumps at the chance to be Violet’s partner. What starts off with Violet begging to get out of the assignment ends with her trying to hold on to the moments as long as she can. 

It appears that Jennifer Niven makes sure not to waste a page on superfluous backstory or characters, and carefully crafted the story to make sure she hit every note with authenticity and delicacy. And her success in this comes from obvious sources: All the Bright Places is influenced by Niven’s own life. 

In the book’s acknowledgements, Niven mentions her own brush with tragedy. While her character Violet loses her sister and part of herself, Niven experienced something similar after losing her mother. She writes definitively: “Her unexpected death on August 28, 2014 was the single worst event of my life.” It only makes sense why the most painful moments are the ones most carefully written, and why every word she chose for her story ached. I remember reading this book for the first time and absolutely bawling my eyes out on the public bus. It hit me hard. 

It took me a while to understand why Niven wanted to share this story. She talked about how she didn’t take a break from writing even though she was burnt out from back-to-back novels. Some readers speculate that it might be to teach us that we can’t always save people, or it might be a lesson to enjoy the time we have with the people we deem our bright places. 

I don’t expect Niven to give a clear answer. Maybe everyone should think of the people that are the bright places in their life, and remind them that they are. That might be all you can do. 

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