All the Bright Places
Knopf, 2015 388 pgs
Alternating points of view tell the stories of high school seniors Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Our book opens with both young people on the roof of the school ready to jump. School weirdo, Finch, talks popular girl, Violet, off the roof and to safety, giving her credit for saving him to protect her reputation. Violet lost her sister the year before in a car accident and is still recovering. Reluctantly she strikes up a friendship with Finch, much to the objections of her popular friends and heart-throb boyfriend. Violet and Finch become partners for a history project, exploring unknown and interesting attractions in their home state of Indiana. Through their adventures Finch manages to lure Violet back into a car for the first time since her sister's accident and she slowly starts to heal. Friendship turns to romance, much to the shock and disapproval of Violet's popular friends. Suddenly, creative and brilliant Finch seems to go over the edge from eccentric to disturbed. He moves into his closet, only to finally escape his house all together. Not knowing where Finch is, Violet tries to elicit his dysfunction family for help locating him. Her supportive parents try to help, even though they disapprove of the relationship, to no avail. Finally, Violet's worst fears are realized as she eventually tracks down Finch. Violet decides to complete the previously planned Indiana adventures in order to find healing, closure, and peace.
I picked this book up sight unseen because it is currently on the best sellers list for books for young people and has been for a few months. I no sooner started reading when I realized it was more "Dead Girl Fiction". UGGG! Am I the only person in the world tiring of Dead Girl Fiction? Apparently, because its still selling like hotcakes. While complaining about this to my fifteen year-old daughter, she informed me that she just read a great book that I would like: Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. And then she said, "Oh, no, wait...", as she realized it was quite obviously, more dead girl fiction. All the Bright Places is a double whammy in that it contains not one, by two deaths. I actually loved the first half of the book. Once the young people got off the roof they made a connection, found some healing, and a sweet romance blossomed. Reading this book brought me back to my teen years and falling love for the first time (with the school weirdo, much to the objection of my friends). And then, just as Niven had me hooked, Theodore Finch takes a downward spiral, as his bipolar condition sends him to a very dark place. Niven has experienced first-hand the loss of a boyfriend to suicide and shares the experience honestly and vividly. After dealing with the death of her sister and being unable to cope, I thought that Violet handled the death of Finch a little too smoothly, but I was grateful for the hopeful ending and young readers will be relieved as well. Niven offers information at the end of the book for teenagers dealing with the same issues as the characters within the story. Teenage suicide is a growing reality for American teens and Niven's book supplies information and hope for those struggling with serious problems common to young people such as bullying, mental illness, grieving, and suicide.