Details & Summary
Since this book is marketed as “an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham” and it’s been a huge success, I had high expectations going into it. My review will talk about how All the Bright Places met most of my expectations but also where it failed.
The book is split up into two first POV’s–Finch’s and Violet’s. I usually don’t enjoy dual POV’s but Jennifer Niven did a fantastic job at developing distinct voices for both main characters. Finch is spontaneous, impulsive and highly energetic but also unmistakably depressed and melancholic. Violet is more guarded, reflective, and trying to figure out her life and life itself after her sister’s death. While a lot of reviewers have accused Niven of making her characters overly quirky (they’re “different” and highly intelligent and quote Virginia Woolf to each other), I didn’t mind their quirkiness. I’m a huge John Green fan, who’s also guilty of creating very quirky characters, so it didn’t bother me at all.
Plot-wise, it’s very clear from the start of the book that it’s about two teenagers trying to help each other live while inevitably falling in love with each other. This is where the trouble starts. While I understand and relate to the characters, I know Niven is inadvertently sending out the wrong message.
“You saved my life. Why couldn’t I save yours?”
Teenagers are not supposed to save each other or help each other live. They’re supposed to get help from adults and professionals to try and address their (mental health) problems. Yes, Finch was seeing a therapist, and, yes, Violet’s parents were present and they cared about her wellbeing, but, ultimately, I think the adults failed the teenagers. There were plenty of signs, yet no one intervened the way they should have. That’s the wrong message to send out to teenagers. They need to feel like they have adults to turn to or they might think their situation is hopeless and make the wrong choice–like Finch did.
Having said that, I think she did a good job at portraying what it’s like to suffer from mental illness. Especially in Finch’s sections of the book.
“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”
Even if you’ve never suffered from mental illness, it’s easy to relate to the wide variety of feelings and emotions that are portrayed in the book such as anger, pain, confusion, heartache, hope, and dread in regards to the future because everyone is battling or has battled those same issues when they were teenagers or young adults.
Lastly, I want to praise Niven’s writing. It’s not easy to portray two very different characters, but she succeeded. Violet’s and Finch’s thoughts are raw and relatable and her writing is beautiful and often poetic–though I’m sure many people would call it pretentious.
While All The Bright Places could’ve set a better example for teenagers by having a better support system of adults and professionals in place to help the main characters battle through their issues, it did manage to bring awareness to mental illness by accurately portraying the experience of her main characters.