All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
We meet Violet Markey and Theodore Finch out on the ledge of their school’s clock tower. They haven’t gone there together, but rather accidentally run into one another as they as both thinking about what it would be like to end it all. Their reasons for being depressed are the first thing that mark their differences.
Violet is dealing with the death of her much loved older sister. The two were in a car accident together, and Violet (irrationally) puts blame on herself. Though her parents are loving, they have not done a good job of processing their daughter’s death. Finch’s depression has a more complex origin. it’s a part of his chemical makeup; it’s who he is when he is not endlessly wakeful, brimming with ideas for songs and action, for changing his appearance and trying out new personalities. Add to his core makeup the fact that Finch is treated like crap at school and by his father (who is violent and abusive), and we imagine that he would be the one to talk Violet into jumping with him.
Thankfully, neither jumps. And now that Finch has had a conversation with the much more popular Violet, he also has a new project in life: helping Violet to step back from the ledge in a more metaphorical sense. Teaching her that there is a vast world of brilliant places and moments awaiting. He gets this opportunity when their geography teacher assigns a project in which class members will pair up and visit sites in their home state of Indiana.
As the couple wander, they become closer. I always love books with road trips, and Violet and Finch take several as they explore their home state. Their romance is at the heart of our love for the novel. And our worry about whether it is enough to save them is what makes us feverishly read to the novel’s conclusion.
High school housekeeping: I so enjoyed All the Bright Places that I am buying more copies so that I can book talk to several classes this fall. It’s a bittersweet look at teen romance and mental illness. The personalities of both characters are very well drawn (each narrates his or her own chapters). As readers, we know them. Their quirkiness–including their wonderful ability to quote famous authors–endears them to us. Helpful also is the suicide prevention material at the end of the book, as well as Niven’s own honest discussion of how the suicides of a family member and a friend have affected her.
Although the two books are very different, I had the same feeling on finishing All the Bright Places as I did when I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian: here is a successful author of adult novels who has just hit a homerun in the YA category. And while I know that writers must follow their muses, I hope that Niven is compelled by hers to write more YA fiction. As a school librarian, this is exactly the kind of book I look forward to sharing, one that may well hook a student on reading.