Oh my heart. My sad broken heart. I have literally just finished All The Bright Places and although I will not spoil the ending for any of you dear readers I will say I had hoped with all my heart for something different in the end. Such a beautiful story, powerful words and meaningful substantial topics that I cannot blame the author Jennifer Niven for ending this book as she did. In fact it was probably the only ending possible for these two gorgeous three dimensional characters and yet, but my heart is broken. My heart is broken, in a good way, the way that reminds you try talent, rich precise characters and plot can do that, and should maybe sometimes grab you by the heart and squeeze hard until you feel all the feels of a gorgeous story, well told.
Finch and Violent are high school students who know each other in passing, until one day when they meet on a ledge of the bell tower at their school. Who saves who from jumping that day? What happens next and how will their relationship evolve – these are the questions that drive the plot forward.
Finch, aka Theodore Freak, at school and home, is a moody quirky teen obsessed with death from the time he was small. Violet Markey is grieving the death of her sister, a built in best friend, who ran a successful web site with her and was one night killed in a car crash when the car slid on an icy patch of a bridge while heading home. Violet’s family is still quite broken, but they are survivors and troupers. Finch is intense and brooding and sometimes volatile. Violet is the victim of extenuating circumstances. She exists in a grief-stricken space of surviving sibling and she struggles to move on, paralyzed at school, alienating herself slowly from her friends due to the depth of her sadness, avoiding anything that she once did, and also excusing herself from any academic commitments at school. She is barely existing until that day when they connect on the bell tower and Finch finds her captivating and deeper than he ever imagined. Her begins to transfer some of his obsession to her.
In their last year of high school Violet is counting the days until graduation, but only because she is marking time on earth, not as a result of looking forward to being a graduate. Finch also is marking his time, calling it the time he has been Awake. He disappears from school often for weeks on end and then suddenly he reemerges slightly changed and returns to school. His time asleep is the time he spends lost in mental illness. He doesn’t have the terms that are accurate for his illness and barely starts to get a diagnosis toward the end of the book, but he is Awake when he connects with Violet Markey. At school an assignment comes up that involves travelling to far-flung and sometimes unsung quirky areas of Indiana to map them out. Finch volunteers Violet as his partner for the project and they begin their wanderings all over Indiana. Violet slowly begins to forget to count the days.
At first Violet finds Finch odd, but she also starts to recognize that there is some freedom in the odd behaviours and he seems to not care what anyone thinks of him. She tolerates their wanderings and their project for a bit until she actually starts to enjoy travelling with Finch and spending time with him. Until now she has been the popular girl with the sporty athletic boyfriend and the supportive parents. She is golden, at least until her sister dies suddenly, and then she is indulged as a victim longer than she should be. Their relationship creates conflict slightly because Violet’s old boyfriend is still sort of hanging around waiting for her to snap out of her grief and return to him. Ryan and Roamer and the group of athletes she once hung around with, don’t like Finch and they bully him often. Finch sometimes antagonizes the athletes until he gets a response that is violent and sometimes he reacts standing up for himself as well. But the depth of his reactions is sometimes scary. He is occasionally pulled off one of the bullies when he does retaliate and he can’t seem to stop himself.
Finch’s family seems mostly oblivious to his mental illness. His parents have separated and his Dad is an abusive ex hockey player who “replaced his family.” His Mom is a broken 40-ish woman who tries to pull a career back together in real estate but seems too lost in her own misery to see that Finch’s moodiness is not just normal adolescent behaviour. Finch is extreme and animated in every way. He has some savvy coping skills to avoid ever getting close to a therapist and he frequently erases the concerned telephone messages from professionals striving to help Finch. His Mom remains unaware anyone has concerns ever his mental state. Finch also has two sisters. They visit the Dad weekly and this provides a good deal more information about the context of the divorce and the poor father that he has been to Finch.
As Violet and Finch, two seemingly opposite souls discover all the bright places of Indiana together they begin to fall in love. Together they are combustible.
Jennifer Niven gives readers two incredibly great characters here in All The Bright Places. Finch as narrator is strong and deep and extremely rich material. Violet also takes her turns narrating and the narration switches in alternating chapters for most of the book. Violet is captured well here too. The plot is simple and not overly taxing. The characters take centre stage here.
All the Bright Places is such a heartbreakingly lovely story, with such real emotional tones and strong subject matter, that I really never found any weak spots. There is nothing I would change about this novel, not even the parts where my heart broke. The language is always matched to the tone of the characters and the dialogue is contemporary and real and true. Typically you read a novel, and maybe review it and find something that grates or annoys you about pacing or wording. Sometimes words are too sweet or language seems forced in young adult novels. I didn’t find that here. I honestly can’t find anything here that jars me, or made me cringe. All The Bright Places reminds me once again that some of the best writing happening today is occurring inside the Young Adults genre. Niven has written several other novels but this is her first young adult novel. Be warned this is not for kids under 12 years of age. I will keep it and let my daughter read this one, but not before she is ready. I have heard rumours the book has been optioned to become a motion picture. I will happily go see this movie when it is out.
Pick this one up. You will be heartbroken, but I promise you it will be worth it.
$$$$$ our of $$$$$. I wish I could give it more than 5 out of 5.
- All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven, Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 6, 2015)
- Language: English