Hello everyone and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all well. Today I’m going to be posting my review of Jennifer Niven’s wonderful YA novel ‘All The Bright Places’. I actually typed this review up about a month ago, but I’ve had a lot of posts I wanted to get up first, including my most recent blog tour. But here it is finally!
** TRIGGER WARNING ** Contains references to mental illness and suicide
‘All The Bright Places’ is Jennifer Niven’s first Young Adult novel, and is her greatest success so far. It was released in January 2015 and has been named “the next The Fault in Our Stars” by Guardian. It was a New York Times bestseller and is soon to be a film starring Elle Fanning, and was also selected for Zoella’s Book Club with WHSmith. It also won the Goodreads Choice 2015 award for YA Ficton.
The novel has received tremendous praise, from the likes of Heat: “A searingly honest and heartbreaking poignant tale about the power and beauty of love” and Kirkus: “Many teen novels touch on similar themes, but few do it so memorably”. Many big names also loved the novel, for example Zoe Sugg aka Zoella said “This book is amazing – I couldn’t put it down” and Jennifer E. Smith believes “It will break your heart and remind you what it means to be alive”.
I’d heard so many good things about ‘All The Bright Places’ before I picked it up. Almost everybody I know that has read it has absolutely loved it, and many friends have recommended I read this. I saw ‘All The Bright Places’ advertised on Pinterest as “A book that deals well with mental illness”. There’s a massive hype surrounding this book; but please, believe that hype! I absolutely loved this novel – and as someone who doesn’t tend to gravitate towards YA fiction, that’s not something I expected to say.
The narrative essentially follows the teenagers Violet and Finch, and switches between the two of them. The book opens as they meet on the ledge of their school bell tower, intending to commit (or contemplating committing) suicide. Both are suffering for different reasons – Violet is devastated after her sister died in a car accident that she survived, and Finch suffers with depression and has been abused by his father for much of his life. Shortly after this, the two become partners on a Geography project in which they will explore the wonders of Indiana together. They slowly begin to fall in love and enter into a relationship.
The first thing I will say about this novel is that it does indeed deal with mental illness expertly, in relation to Finch especially. He often disappears for days on end and has a lot of negative thoughts and emotions, often feeling deeply alone. As a sufferer of mental illness myself, these are all traits I can particularly relate to. Finch is an outwardly funny and cheerful character, expertly masking his internal struggles.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard about this book is actually in relation to its depiction of mental illness, and how it’s not an accurate portrayal of living with mental illness. I strongly disagree with this! Finch keeps many of his emotions and thoughts inside and doesn’t want to burden others with his negativity, which I would argue is an EXTREMELY ACCURATE portrayal of living with depression. The novel isn’t as dark as you might first expect by reading the blurb – and I myself am glad that it’s not an extremely dark read.
The narrative switches in perspectives from Violet to Finch and back again throughout. Both characters are different and unique, and Niven has constructed two brilliant characters here. I felt that both voices and perspectives were equally strong, and I was constantly reassured throughout that whoever’s voice was coming next, I would enjoy it.
Violet was definitely not the character I expected her to be. She’s one of the “popular girls” at school, and Finch is in a completely different league from her. She has lots of friends, is invited to lots of parties and had a very attractive boyfriend previously (before her sister’s accident). Despite all of this, Violet is suffering deep down inside, and it’s Finch who encourages her to come out of the wall she has built around herself since the accident.
It was so refreshing to read all about the ins and outs of Violet and Finch’s relationship, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading as their relationship blossomed and progressed. Despite the odds stacked against them, they love each other unconditionally. They even quote from Virginia Woolf’s suicide letter to each other (I absolutely love references to classical literature and authors in contemporary fiction!)
I loved the portrayal of all the other minor characters too. There was a really good mix in there – from Finch’s abusive father, his lost and helpless mother, and his two caring sisters; to Violet’s overprotective parents and her judgemental friends. There was also all your typical high school characters: the “school bully” (Roamer), the “attractive popular boy” (Ryan) and the “popular best friend” (Amanda).
I was absolutely hooked on ‘All The Bright Places’ and devoured it in two sittings. It’s a beautiful story about two remarkable characters. It explores the themes of love, mental illness, suicide, friendship, high school life and much more so brilliantly.
The ending was shocking and deeply sad, and I was deeply heart-broken and touched by what happened (but don’t worry – I’m not going to spoil it for you!) I cried like a baby for the final 40 or so pages! I don’t usually get THIS emotional when reading books, but this really struck a chord deep within me. If you’re going to read this, I highly recommend you have some tissues at the ready – you’re going to need them!
As I said previously, YA Fiction is not my preferred genre to read, but I thought this book was just exceptional. It reminded me that even though you may be broken or be suffering on the inside, you are still worthy of love and affection – a message which I believe is so important. This story gave me hope and strength, as well as reducing me to tears multiple times. It’s heart-warming and compelling, and deeply moved me as a reader. It’s one of those books that stayed with me after reading – I couldn’t stop thinking about it!
I highly recommend that you read ‘All The Bright Places’, even if you don’t read much YA Fiction. It’s gone straight on my “favourites” shelf – and I guarantee you’ll love it too! I’ll definitely be reading Niven’s latest YA novel ‘Holding Up The Universe’ ASAP too.
Happy reading 🙂