All the Bright Places
All the Bright Places
Jennifer Niven
ISBN 9780385755887
Knopf/Random House, 2015.
5 stars
Keywords: all-bright-places friendship jennifer-niven mental-illness romance suicide

All the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven

Jennifer Niven's (American Blonde) first YA novel features two teens whose dark paths join to become filled with light and humor. In the opening scene--one of the funniest in literature, for young people or adults--two teens from opposite sides of the social spectrum meet on the roof of their high school, where they've both come to contemplate jumping.

"Take it from me, the worst thing you can do is look down." These are 17-year-old Theodore Finch's first words to former cheerleader Violet Markey. Finch continues, "Come here often? Because this is kind of my spot and I don't remember seeing you here before." Although his friends call him Finch, he's more widely known as "Freak" since eighth grade--reinforced by his outlandish behavior. So everyone naturally assumes that Violet saved Finch from leaping to his death, rather than the reverse. To Violet's credit, she sees "Freak" in a new light after their shared experience, and permits conversations with him in the hallways. She even consents to be Finch's partner in a U.S. geography project called "Wander Indiana."

Niven constructs the project as not only a physical scavenger hunt of Indiana's star attractions but also a literal quest. In alternating chapters narrated by Violet and Finch, each opens up to the other about their pasts. Violet confides in Finch about her survivor's guilt following a car accident that killed her sister, Eleanor, and from which Violet walked away. Finch tells Violet about his father's departure last summer for "the final time" (trading in Finch's family for "a new one he liked better") and the betrayal that led to his nickname. In many ways, Violet and Finch's lives begin with the novel's opening scene. But just as Violet is winding up, Finch begins a downward spiral. Niven captures with precise language how it feels to Finch to battle his wild mood swings. The spaces around him grow and shrink, sounds and colors get too loud. He can recite the suicide notes of Virginia Woolf, Russian Revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovski and Italian poet Cesare Pavese. His contemplations of suicide occur not only at his lowest points, but also at his peaks.

When Finch disappears soon after, his best friends--and even Finch's mother--assure Violet that this is "normal" behavior for him. But Violet thinks otherwise, and follows the as-yet-unvisited sites on their Wander Indiana map in search of Finch. In Violet, Finch finds his "Great Manifesto," and through Finch, Violet finds a way back to herself. Teens will devour this funny, smart and insightful love story in one sitting.

This review is adapted from one that first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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