Teen suicide is one of the darker, taboo topics of life that remains, for the most part, unexplored in literature. However, in “All the Bright Places,” author Jennifer Niven uses past personal experiences to reveal the story and minds of two suicidal teenagers, Finch and Violet.
An outsider and freak, Theodore Finch constantly thinks of ways he might die, but manages to find something to keep him alive every day. On the other hand, Violet Markey is a popular queen bee who can not wait to escape her small-town Indiana life and the relentless grief she feels in the wake of her sister’s death.
Under ordinary circumstances, the two would never meet — except when Finch talks Violet off the ledge of the school’s bell tower, and the two begin a tumultuous relationship as Violet learns to let go of her emotional distress and Finch learns to be himself: “a bold, funny, live-out-loud kind of guy.”
The two then pair up for a project for geography class, in which they have to explore different “wonders” of Indiana, and the story progresses from there.
I was immediately attracted to this book by its cover: the post-its, the hand-writing, the bird and the flower; this, my friends, is cover design done correctly. I went into the book with high expectations, which were definitely met. This novel reveals the thought process of suicidal teenagers and their motives while artfully expressing a morbid, darker kind of humor that managed to lighten the mood when necessary.
Throughout the novel, the readers are exposed to bits and pieces of information of each character’s family and background. For example, we learn about how Violet feels trapped in a community that tends to focus on her sister’s death, and how she utilizes this as a tool to get out of completing her schoolwork; we also learn how Finch was beaten by his father as a child, which still affects him in his adolescence.
I also appreciated how the two interacted not only in person, but also online. Finch creates a Facebook account solely to talk to Violet, and their conversations add a second, more open means of communication. Online, the two are more honest with each other and less afraid to express themselves, so much of their relationship develops through this medium.
Before reading “All the Bright Places,” I had never seen a contemporary novel incorporate social media to its plot successfully, and I was impressed by how seamlessly the virtual and actual worlds blended together.
The author, Jennifer Niven, is someone who has survived the loss of loved ones due to suicide. Her great-grandfather died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and her ex-boyfriend committed suicide as well (she was the one who discovered him). Needless to say, Niven understands what it’s like to be close to someone who has committed suicide, and she was eager to convey these feelings through “All the Bright Places.”
Overall, I was pleased by the author’s writing style and the story progression: both the characters and the environment had depth, and not a page was wasted. Every detail served a purpose, and the story came together beautifully to create a heart-wrenching story of young love in emotionally turbulent times.