When Theodore Finch climbs the steps of the bell tower to commit suicide, he does not expect to find Violet Markey standing on the ledge, also ready to end her life. It is here that they officially meet and both prevent each other from doing what they had planned to do. Their relationship quickly changes into something much more as the two of them discover each others’ secrets.
All the Bright Places does something novels rarely do — it humanizes people with serious mental illness. While horror novels usually categorize mentally ill people as crazy, unpredictable, and dangerous, and crime fiction often treats mentally ill people like criminals that need discipline, Niven’s novel takes the prospective of the mentally ill person and gives said person a voice. A subject not often covered, thoughts and ideas within the novel are realistic and handled with careful sensitivity. Niven uses her excellent prose, her immense knowledge of interesting facts, and two incredibly interesting main characters to write about something many people cannot find the words to discuss.
The book is also a romance but it is much more than a love story. While there is a significant portion of the book devoted to infatuation and sex, there are no gratuitous mushy love scenes. The characters are important with serious flaws (Violet struggles with lying and facades, Finch is a borderline stalker and struggles with serious mood swings). The characters’ insecurities and desires are not over-exaggerated. It reminds me of a modern day Romeo and Juliet with a somewhat scrambled plot and less peacocking from the opposing parties.
There were a few things that stirred my curiosity. While the beautiful girl and outcast boy were familiar to me, I wondered what it would be like if the two switched places. What if Violet Markey was not as pretty to look at and was struggling with mental illness? What if Theodore Finch was the one suffering from the loss of his sister that he used to be so close to? How would this change the story? How would the story be different if they were not white — especially while growing up in the midwest? Niven’s work had me thinking a great deal about how we treat people in general and how people are affected by our actions.
All the Bright Places is now one of my favorite YA novels. I would recommend it to young adult readers and adult readers alike. I look forward to Niven’s next YA novel.
Jennifer Niven is the author of eight books of both nonfiction and fiction. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Germ Magazine, which was fictionalized in All the Bright Places and then realized as a real magazine afterward. To learn more about her first YA novel and to preorder the book, click here.