Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

All the Bright Places

all the bright placesSurprising and deeply moving. If you loved Fault in our Stars you will enjoy this book.

OVERALL: 4 Stars

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Concept:4.5 Stars
Characters:4.5 Stars
Plot:3.5 Stars
Writing:4 Stars

 

Jennifer Niven
N/A
2015
Knopf
400

 

Description: ‘A compelling and beautiful story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die.’

Violet and Theodore have seen each other around at school but they really meet for the first time, six stories up, at the top of the school bell tower. Both are looking for a reason not to jump. Violet is a popular girl who is still grieving over the loss of her sister while Theodore Finch’s often unhinged behaviour has earned him the nickname – freak. Both feel that life has become too hard and are seeking release from their demons. Finch’s demon is depression and the fact he is bipolar. Violet’s is survivors guilt. Together they decide to come off the ledge and as the book unfolds their relationship grows. They start to lean on each other, trust each other and the darkness they feel within starts to brighten. Violet forgets to count the days to graduation and Finch manages to stay ‘present’ for longer than ever. Then Finch has a lapse and with little support at home and only Violet to rely on, will she be enough to pull him back from his blackest self?

Concept: The concept behind this book is really solid. There have been a spattering of books about teen death and grief, most notably John Green’s ‘The fault in our stars’ and Jesse Andrews’ “Me Earl and the Dying Girl”, but although All the Bright Things is along the same vein – i.e. cool boy meets cool girl, have a relationship under strenuous circumstances this book holds its own. It also tackles the issue from a different angle, instead of being somewhat helpless in terms of their fate, in this book the characters battle their shitty circumstances with a real chance to come out the other side. In other words they are more in control of their fates and it becomes more of a question of are they strong enough, or willing enough to choose life.

back cover all the bright placesCharacters: The two main characters are well drawn and thought out. The secondary characters not so much. But since the book is really all about Violet and Finch, its not a big deal. Since both are struggling with specific demons it was sometimes hard to relate to them but what Jennifer Niven did really well was create a sense of that lethargy, doom and deep consequence that punctuates teenage life. It pulled me back and made we remember my own teenage years and I found myself cringing and willing Violet and Finch on with cries of ‘it will get better, I promise. Just. hold. on.’

Plot: This is a very good book that starts with a bang and moves along quite quickly, but I can’t deny that some parts of the plot are a bit, ho hum. For instance I didn’t really love the whole ‘assignment’ thing. I also thought that there was a bit at the end (which I won’t give away!) that was a bit convenient. You know, right person in the right place at the right time – convenient. Also the ending was a bit drawn out. OK, that makes it sounds like there is a lot wrong with this book’s plot, really there isn’t, I’m just being super picky because this book wasn’t as tight as say, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.

Writing: The writing is very good. It’s easy to read and flows well. My only small, very small, criticism would be that it could at times be a bit too angsty and sometimes Violet and Finch sound very similar. Which I guess in some ways is understandable, people who hang around together pick up similar phrases and mannerisms, but then again, Violet and Theodore are very different people.

PARENTS: The themes, suicide, bipolar, depression and survivor guilt are BIG. So keep this in mind if you have a sensitive tween or teen. I wouldn’t recommend this book for kids younger than 13. This is a book that will appeal mainly to girls but given that half is told from the point of view of Finch, boys should relate to it too. So if you can leave it lying casually around the house or get a friend who your son respects to give it to him, I’m sure he will like it. The issues of depression and suicide are particularly relevant for teenage boys who find it hard to talk about their anxiety and depression and well, feelings in general.

Things to ask and discuss:

(If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. Ask these questions anyway and coax the answers and details out. Or just let your teen mull it over alone. Don’t worry if they don’t want to talk about some of the things listed here, it’s ok to just let them talk about the bits they want to. Bottom line is, they will love that you are showing an interest and asking for their opinion, even if they don’t always show it!)

1) Were you surprised by the books ending? Why? Why not?

2) Do you think that someone can help ‘fix’ another person who is grieving or struggling with depression?

3) How much of Finch’s condition do you think was nature and how much nurture? Do you think if he had different parents or a different family life things would have been different? Conversely, how did Vi’s parent’s help or hinder her?

4) Do you think that Vi should have tried harder to contact Finch after their misunderstanding? Would that have made a difference?

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