At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, despite its glowing reviews. I worried that a book about teens struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts would be, well, too depressing. But, while All the Bright Places is one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read, it is also heartwarming and life-affirming.
“Freak” Theodore Finch and “popular” Violet Markey don’t kill themselves by jumping off their high school’s bell tower. They don’t suffer through their darkest days alone. Rather, their meeting on the ledge of the bell tower saves their lives. They become unlikely friends who embark on a journey that is both physical, as they explore Indiana for a class project, and psychological, as they help one another recover—Violet, from her sister’s death, and Finch, from months of severe depression. They discover new wonders, experience joy, fall in love, and regain hope that healing and salvation are possible. And, best of all, their thoughts and actions are intimate and immediate because All the Bright Places is told in their alternate voices.
The Author’s Note helps clarify why Jennifer Niven writes about depression and suicide with so much honesty and understanding. All the Bright Places draws from her personal experiences, which, for a long time, were too painful to think, speak and write about. It also shines a light on the fact that, although such issues are common, people who suffer from anxiety, depression, mental instability, and suicidal thoughts are often shamed, stigmatized and marginalized. So, in addition to being a great read, All the Bright Places encourages open-mindedness, compassion and self-expression. In fact, Germ (a platform for “real thoughts, real writing, real life”) and the website Violet created with her sister are not only in the book, they actually exist.
All the Bright Places’ epigraph—“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places” (Ernest Hemingway)—beautifully describes this book. As Finch and Violet discover, while singing Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, even during dark times:
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
Once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
All the Bright Places is a perfect choice for fans of John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) and Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park). If you want to read other great novels about teens dealing with grief, depression and suicide, I recommend these new releases: Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Say Goodbye, Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes, and Cindy L. Rodriquez’s When Reason Breaks.
Jennifer Niven is the author of eight books, including the Velva Jean series, and All the Bright Places is her first YA novel.
Alyssa Raymond loves to read, review and collect books—thanks to her long stint as a bookseller at the Boulder Book Store. For Lit Witches, she will recommend new releases in YA and adult fiction. You can find her on twitter @acrbks.