Theodore Finch struggles with depression. Violet Markey is grieving the loss of her sister Eleanor. The two meet when they each attempt to end their lives by jumping off their high school’s bell tower. Finch snaps out of his stupor when he sees his popular classmate Violet and quickly saves her from jumping. Finch leads everyone to believe that Violet, in an act of heroism, had come to the tower that morning to save him from jumping. From then on, bonded by their secret, the two become fast friends working to keep each other from the darkness and focus on the good moments in life.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, is a fairly accurate depiction of depression. It is well-written and includes vivid imagery that tethers reader to character journey. Niven’s writing gives reader stake in Violet and Finch’s adventure. Niven’s Finch is a witty, charismatic lead who seems to emanate an inner self confidence and critical awareness. His voice prompts the reader to consider things they might otherwise not. In Finch is darkness dipped in humor. His monologue is light enough as not to make a reader too uncomfortable but grave enough to make the reader at least curious and invested in his journey and emotional well-being.
Niven captures the adolescent voice so well. Her characters are not ignorant but are hypervigilant and cynical, yet pragmatic. Many adolescents silently absorb their surroundings and with these characters a voice is given to this internal monologue.
Violet feels she is being ignored and is unseen, calling out for someone to notice but no one digs deeper than below shallow pleasantries. The character reflects a common trait of those struggling with depression. This book gives hope to those afraid of opening up but desperately wish for someone to notices and help them.
This book charges students to look after one another. It shows them they have power in these situations.
However, even with depth of characters, they are sometimes shallow; for example, Violet spends much of the book worrying about her bangs, believing them to be a punishment. These moments are out of place in an otherwise insightful book. Niven also plays into high school clichés: the popular girl falling for the outcast is an overplayed plotline.
Something teachers should also be cautious of is the fact that, in this book, adults oblivious, ineffective and often just don’t understand. This might emphasize fears some student’s may have that they can’t turn to an authority figure. If teaching this book, instructors should take a moment to unpack this, and show students they have someone to which they can turn. Possible essential questions could ask students to consider moments when they felt unheard or ignored and brainstorm solutions to combat these issues.
One of the characters in the book does commit suicide, so teachers should be cautious before assigning it. While I truly believe students will benefit from reading this book, it is not for every classroom, and teachers should approach the subject matter in this book carefully. Mental health and suicide and grief are difficult topics. Whether they’ve directly experienced it or they are just made uncomfortable by the fact that it could happen and do not like thinking about it, students will have a hard time reading and discussing this book. Ultimately, Niven’s book encourages readers to find the beautiful moments in life and focus on the good days. This book is necessary especially in the wake of Thirteen Reasons Why. All the Bright Places depicts suicide in all its forms, not glamorous, not beautiful, not as justice, but dark and frightening and baffling.
By: Naana Obeng-Marnu
Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. Ember, 2015.