It’s not all that often that you come upon a piece of literature that really leaves a mark. We all have our favourite books, short stories or poems, and for different reasons. One of the greatest things about art is that any form of it can be interpreted a thousand different ways to a thousand different people, yet to each and every person, that interpretation has a meaning. For me, All The Bright Places now holds a very dear and special place in my heart, and I cannot thank the author enough for producing such a wonderful novel that’s empowering, enriching and so important for both young and old readers today.
So thank you Jennifer Niven.
The plot of this story was ingeniously crafted and structured, and despite the heavy nature of the novel’s content, flowed beautifully. This is in part due to Jennifer Niven’s writing style, but the events that occurred throughout this novel alone carried my full attention the entire way through. I not only cared about the characters and how their stories were going to develop, but the general premise of the novel truly grabbed my attention throughout. I was definitely in the mood for a hard-hitting contemporary novel, but I wasn’t expecting to the story to progress so strongly and so vividly, though it was a very redeeming quality. At times I thought I was able to guess (or at least have a general idea) as to where the story might be going, but for the most part I was almost always wrong. I love how I was able to be surprised more than once and the strong desire to always know more kept my attention very well. I wanted to know what every character was doing, what they were going to be doing next, and mostly where they were going to end up. The journey that this novel takes you on is a twisting one, one filled with many surprises and unexpected events, but the very heart and nature of it is what ultimately makes it such a prominent read.
As an equally plot-heavy and character-heavy novel, I expected at least one of the two of these aspects to be a little less developed though I couldn’t have been more wrong. The way that the importance of these characters is seamlessly interwoven with the events that transpire within the story is incredible and admirable, and leaves you knowing just enough about both, but definitely wanting and needing more. Both of the main characters, Violet and Finch, had an equal say throughout the novel’s entirety so that we cared equally about the both of them and wanted more from both of their stories. Often with dual perspective novels it can be easy to fall into the trap of not caring about one perspective and thus relying on the other to pick up the overall enjoyment of the story. This wasn’t the case for Violet and Finch’s stories, as they weren’t only important on their own but together they intricately built a story together. What was probably most striking about these two main characters was their similarity, not just in their personalities but also in their likes and dislikes. This helped in their development of a friendship, and eventual romantic relationship, but was also a unique way that the two of them were able to communicate with each other without recognition by any other character.
My overall attachment to these characters added a new dimension to my overall love of this novel, as by the conclusion of it I felt as though my story had come to an end as well. I not only cared for them and their happiness, but I worried for them, grieved for them and truly felt emphatic towards them. I turned every page in the hope that the next one would bring both Violet and Finch some sort of happiness or reassurance or hope, which is something that can be said for the magical way in which Jennifer Niven was able to create and write them both. She gave both of them an equal say and an equal part of the novel, but the short chapters of each of them that were written left a craving sensation to know and want more. It also added something to the emotions that each character experienced separately. If either Violet or Finch were feeling particularly low emotionally, their chapters would tend to be shorter as would the sentences within them (and vice versa).
Violet and Finch are so unlike any other characters I’ve ever read before, and whilst reading this novel the beginning of it felt like reading two stories separately until they eventually converged into one epic journey. For me personally, the character development was the most notable thing about the novel overall, and I can’t stress enough that this is a very character-driven and character-heavy novel. In the same way that they’re the same people at both the beginning and end of this story, they’re also extremely different.
This was my first introduction to Jennifer Niven’s writing, and I have to say that she’s one of very few authors who writes exotically. The writing within this novel was never once difficult to follow or understand, and was instead so easy to absorb and digest that it made the entire feel of the book very lightweight. Whilst reading this novel time would cease to exist around me and I’d hardly notice if an hour or two (or five) passed and I’d been blind to it all. It was wonderful and refreshing to read a story so deeply and so thoroughly, but also so quickly. It’s a well known fact that many young-adult contemporary novels that have central themes concerning suicide and mental illness are often tabooed and ignored by wider reading audiences, simply for the nature of its content. Not only do I find this disrespectful to the subjects, as they’re very real and prevalent issues throughout society, but it’s also quite off-hand to those who are affected by these things. For young readers especially, whom these issues often most affect, these topics need to be discussed and explored and talked about most of all, because in not doing so we’re almost doing a disservice. In not talking about it, or addressing it, how can we overcome it? It’s okay when novels talk about murder, because we all know that exists and how to solve it, but when it comes to mental illness it’s almost always pushed to the sidelines because no one else wants to accept the fact that some people’s issues stem from something wrong within them. Just because we can’t see the illness and the root of it, doesn’t mean that we should ignore it altogether.
That being said, I applaud the way in which Jennifer Niven handled these matters in this novel. The stigmatisation that often comes alongside mental illness is what she explores most in this novel and is something that’s very rarely done (and done well) in the young adult contemporary genre. She explored mental health not only from the two main character’s perspectives, but also from the perspectives of many minor characters, including parents and family, friends, classmates, teachers and even complete strangers. To me, this seems like a perfect way to mirror how, in real life, the subject of mental health is approached by various types of people in society. Combined with this, Niven added so many more complicated layers and dimensions to her characters and the storyline, and the fact that she was able to hold and maintain such an effortlessly beautiful writing technique is astounding. She didn’t overdo or overemphasise any minor detail, but at the same time she didn’t ignore or exclude the little things that added so much to the overarching story.
Overall, the writing style in this novel is what made it such a fantastic read. Not only was it unblemished and fault-less, but it also worked extraordinarily well with the story that was being told.
As a very character-driven novel, All The Bright Places deals with individual character development, as well as romantic development. As we see both Violet and Finch growing into themselves and learning about each other, we also see the beginning of their romantic relationship grow. We can see the seeds of their relationship almost immediately, but although Violet and Finch are able to get along easily enough, it does take time for them to grow romantically. Finch is slightly more of a romantic and flamboyant character, and the small acts of kindness and romance definitely left me as the reader feeling swept off my feet. Their romantic relationship is a very unique one, and unlike many other young adult contemporary novels, it isn’t an intimate one straight away. I admire the fact that Jennifer Niven wrote sex into this novel as for teenagers especially, it’s a very important topic. I respected the fact that Violet and Finch discussed (and understood) where both of them stood in relation to having sex, but I also enjoyed how patient and thought out their relationship was overall. From a little nervous couple that were too shy to hold hands in public, Violet and Finch definitely grew into a more confident and loving couple. Not only are they extraordinarily similar and in love, but they way that they’re able to communicate and understand one another so easily is something that every relationship should have. Violet and Finch are able to overcome a severe lack of support from family, friends and classmates, even their own insecurities and concerns, but still manage to make the most of every single moment that they’re able to share together. The romance in this novel is so unlike any other romantic relationship, but is also one of the most real as well.
I’ve already spoken about the way that Jennifer Niven is able to flawlessly craft a story, but the pinnacle of this is definitely the ending of the novel. Although some people may not think that the ending is particularly well-rounded, and it’s definitely not a ‘happier’ ending, it leaves a sense of overwhelming emotion. After reading the last few words (even the last few sentences or chapters) of this novel I was left feeling a plethora of emotions, which ranged sort of drastically. I felt sad, grieved, lonely, satisfied, content, all of it. I couldn’t focus on the one emotion because they all appeared at full force at the same time. I was crying, but I was smiling too. I definitely felt like the novel concluded extraordinarily well, and that both Violet and Finch’s stories and journey came to an end nicely. This is one of those stories where, after reading it, you’re left reeling at what just happened but also what you’ve just read overall. You’re not quite sure where to go from there on out because there’s so much to take in and absorb all at once, and you don’t want to miss any of it.
Overall Enjoyment: ★★★★★
I wish that I could spend the rest of my life reeling over and thinking about how much I enjoyed this novel, but also how much I learned from this it. I enjoyed every single element, and you know a novel is of great calibre when, whilst reading it, time slows down and all your surroundings are drowned out. I not only learned a lot, but felt as though I were in the process of becoming a better person and starting to see things in an entirely new perspective. I enjoyed the funny parts, the serious parts, and the journey all the way from the first word to the very last word. All I can do now is hope and pray that every single person, young or old, male or female, reads this novel.
I can definitely see myself re-reading All The Bright Places at some point in the future, but not very soon. This is a very emotionally heavy novel that deals with extremely sensitive topics, and while I do think that it’s important that many people read it, at least once, I wouldn’t advise re-reading it soon after finishing it the first time. Not only do I need to take some time to mentally process everything that happened throughout the novel, but I also need to take the time to grieve for what happened and come to terms with it too. At some point it would be nice to revisit these characters and their stories, and one day I hope to re-read this book and hopefully learn just as much from it as I did the first time around.
Final Rating: ★★★★★
Unsurprisingly my overall rating for this novel is a 5 out of 5 stars. Every single element that is written to create a novel (i.e. everything discussed above) received nothing shy of a full star review from me individually, so naturally my final rating had to follow suit. If it were possible to do so, I would give this novel every single star in the sky.
I need everyone out there in the world to read this book, because it is so so so important.