A suicidal teen convincing a depressed girl that there is no point in killing herself is pretty contradictory, but it is precisely this contradiction that brings out the light and the lessons of “All The Bright Places.”
As a cyclical novel that starts with despair, climaxes in joy and comes back to sadness again, Jennifer Niven’s story is a journey in which a suicidal boy, Theodore Finch, along with his troubled friend Violet Markey, explore all the brightest places that prove there is indeed beauty in life and living.
Narrated from two alternating points of view, the story navigates through the feelings of two typical teenagers trying to survive high school.
However, there is an unconventional catch: Both of them are not sure if they want to be alive.
Standing on the ledge of the school tower wondering what it would feel like to jump, Finch discovers he has company in Violet, and decides to stop her death. He assumes there is no reason for her to do it, but she does have a reason, and that is where the story begins.
Just as Violet is given another chance, Finch becomes a hero that cannot be saved.
“All The Bright Places” is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adult readers, and although the story is dark, she succeeds in not only entertaining, but also inculcating a message into the young community. Even though her book is flooded with sadness and anguish, her idea is to let teenagers know that they are not alone in this world and that somehow, there always is light at the end of the tunnel.
At the end of the author’s note, she addresses the young readers directly and reassures them by saying: “You are not alone, it is not your fault and help is out there.” One of her character’s most iconic and inspiring phrases has to be: “It’s not what you take, it’s what you leave,” a phrase that although may be hard to comprehend, lingers even after the pages are long read.
Having lost a close friend to suicide, Niven is no stranger to the drama and the sadness of deep emotional distress. She writes in such a way that makes the reader wonder if she ever went through it herself, especially at the beginning of the story, where there is a very well-written and emotionally deep passage.
“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting […] and I wish for measles or smallpox […] some disease just to make it simple for me and also for them,” Niven writes.
Born in Indiana, Niven, a young writer, has already written non-fiction works, as well as four novels for adults titled “American Blonde,” “Becoming Clementine,” “Velva Jean Learns To Fly” and “Velva Jean Learns To Drive.” Although it is her first time exploring death and the teenage mind, she has done a great job of writing about, for and like the teenage generation.
As Niven has won an Emmy for one of her short films, “All The Bright Places” had been picked up for cinematic adaptation before the book was even released.
Steered by drama, car accidents, bullying and death, Niven manages to incorporate sweet romance in a star-crossed-lovers style. Although it does sound unrealistic and cheesy, it is this unexpected love that saves Violet and hopeless Finch, but not for too long.
Although the plot is clear from the beginning, Niven likes to keep certain things under the covers, and this is why her book will succeed in keeping readers hooked until the end.
Marked as “Young Adult,” the book succeeds in portraying teenage years. Niven writes with such emotion and perfection that it feels as if she herself is an 18-year-old girl.
Knowing the teenage prototype and understanding the struggles of friendship, love, lust and gossip, she resorts to a specific tone and language that makes us feel like we’re back in high school all over again.
Niven captures the essence of the teenage experience by saying things like, “They talk over each other in these high voices that always end in questions marks,” and “This is followed by laughter because we’re in high school, which means we’re predictable and almost anything is funny, especially if it’s someone else’s public humiliation.”
Not only does she represent the teenage voice with precision, but she also makes the story very believable and contemporary by making references to current and existing TV shows, movies, places and people like Facebook, The Vampire Diaries and Emma Watson.
Although part of the YA genre, Violet and Finch explore the dangerous world of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and teen sex, something that might not be appropriate for readers under the age of 14.
It is clear that Niven is a book lover herself, because she constantly quotes famous writers like the Bronte sisters, Dr. Seuss, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare and many others, giving literature junkies something to like, if not adore.
One of the best things about the dual narration is the fact that readers get both Finch’s and Violet’s side of the story. Niven has a neat style of writing, and thus the flow of events is perfectly understandable. She has achieved great continuity between the alternating voices, making it easy to keep track of time and events.
A shocking, but predictable, ending will sadden most young readers, who will probably miss the point of the journey because of their devotion to the love story, which is definitely not the only thing to think about.
Although the ending is quite angering, it does go back to the beginning, reminding us what Finch always wanted to do: Save Violet.
Taking into consideration that the story starts with Finch thinking about killing himself, the ending is reasonable, appropriate and well-written. However, it is probably not what the audience is rooting for, prompting possible disappointments from numerous readers.
Even though the conclusion deserved more time and dedication, Niven was successfully able to explore the uneasy realm of teenage years and death without writing a heartless story.
“All The Bright Places” is a dark, but sweet story that explores death, guilt, suffering and loss all intertwined with the effects and the power of love and true friendship. Niven writes about very human things, like weaknesses, fears and temptations, so her novel is not just for teenagers, but for everyone that has ever hit a bumpy road. This way, she expands the YA horizons into a much bigger audience.
Featured photo courtesy penguin.com.au