Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

all-the-bright-places

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning!
 
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And 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.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

PUBLISHER: Knopf

PAGES: 378

~*~*~*~*~

I was almost in the throes of finals when I bought this book at a local bookstore. I remember hearing a lot of hype about this novel a couple years ago as it was released around the time of my book blogging beginnings.

I was a fan of this novel at first, feeling intrigued by the creative banter between Finch and Violet and Niven’s smooth writing. As much as I enjoyed The Fault in our Stars, I found the same fault in Green’s big hit as I found in Niven’s All the Bright Places. They both romanticize some very serious life experiences and I have to comment about it. This review will not contain spoilers, though I am so tempted to include a few. MORAL RATING:

R: mental illness, suicide, drugs, sexual themes, character with bipolar disorder, etc. This book deals with several dark themes and does not wrap up with a sparkly bow. Not intended for the sensitive reader.

THE GOOD:

I always read the author’s bio or acknowledgements when I’m about 1/3 through a novel. Niven mentions that she lost someone to suicide when she was younger, and that this novel helped her heal from that experience. I completely respect her healing process, but I do believe that this book could have approached the subject better.

Niven is a gifted writer and I did enjoy her writing style. The conversations between Violet and Finch were sweet and witty and they kept me invested in the plot.

THE BAD:

This book romanticizes mental illness. There. It. Is. Folks.

Honestly, I cry at most things, but I mostly felt angry at the end of this novel. I felt like Niven wanted everyone to bawl their eyes out at the end. I experienced a sort of out-of-body feeling when I finished this book, knowing I should have been affected by the emotional manipulation. All of the twists and turns should have culminated in my biggest cry fest since the ending of Titanic.

Finch is a hipster, Virginia Woolf-loving, cookie-cutter character who could probably be blown away by a slight gust of wind. He’s charming, witty, and… suicidal. Violet is popular at their high school, and her name is a color. Soooo hip! 

If you’ve ever opened up a book and read a few pages, you’ve probably seen this trope before. Zany guy and popular girl. Although Finch is bipolar, there is more treatment of his highs than his lows, his charming, cunning wit than his disturbed side. And when he is obviously not mentally OK, no one runs and gets him the help he deserves. His mental health is mostly treated like a charming oddity or a fun plot device. Sadly, it is not treated like a serious problem.

SOUNDTRACK:

The Perishers’ “Pills” has been a CYE (“Close Your Eyes”) song for me for awhile. CYEs are songs you can only fully enjoy with your eyes closed, enveloped in total silence. Both Finch and Violet struggle with their own inner demons. This song encompasses the isolation one may feel when dealing with tough stuff, and the overwhelming urge to put on a fake front to keep others from seeing the truth.

MY VERDICT:

I hate to say this, but I’d give Niven’s novel 2/5 hearts. The utilization of suicide and bipolar disorder as plot devices was disappointing (and, to be honest, a bit offensive) to me. I respect Niven and the pain that she has gone through, but cannot recommend this novel.

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