All The Books I Can Read

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Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

on January 23, 2015

All The Bright PlacesAll The Bright Places
Jennifer Niven
Penguin Books AUS
2015, 388p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Theodore Finch is known as the freak at school. He’s that guy, the outcast, the one that’s known for doing weird things. Sometimes he takes off, for days at a time. Sometimes he gets into fights. He’s on his last warning at school. He has to see the counselor.

Violet Markey is popular. She was a cheerleader. She had a boyfriend, the most popular guy in school. But then Violet’s life changed forever with the death of her older sister Eleanor. All of a sudden, Violet felt like there wasn’t much point anymore. She was struggling to cope, unable to connect with her friends.

Theodore and Violet meet atop of the bell tower at their school. It’s uncertain who saves who from jumping – or falling. Then he volunteers himself as her partner for a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state. The more time they spend together, the more they can begin to be themselves around each other. They confide things in each other that they just can’t tell other people.

But Finch is fascinated with death. He keeps track of how much he feels like taking his own life, ways in which other people have taken theirs. As Violet is emerging from her cocoon of grief, Finch it seems, is retreating further from being awake, into another phase that he cannot cope with.

This book has had some buzz around it for a long time. There are lots of things that tend to give away a publisher’s expectation that it will be big and ARCs arriving months in advance, especially with cute post-it notes (for the record mine say Romitri, when your ship becomes canon & finishing a good work out!) are a bit of a clue. There’s also the fact that this one has sold movie rights (Dakota Fanning is apparently tipped to play Violet) before it was published. It’s got ‘for fans of John Green’ written all over it.

Props to the author for picking a difficult subject, especially one that judging by the author’s note, is very personal to her. I think that it’s difficult to tackle suicide in any form, but even more so in teen fiction because so much of the time people are wanting to ‘protect’ teens from the ugliness out there, to feed them fluff and take away the drinking, the drugs, the sex, the mental illness because it might give them ideas. Life doesn’t work like that and you need these topics out there, ready to be discussed.

I liked both Finch and Violet, particularly Finch but at times, both were inconsistent characters. Finch is so lauded as being a freak, for being weird and the reader gets an explanation for this but to be honest, it’s not really that plausible, neither is Finch really outcast material. In fact, he’d probably be the popular guy in most other stories. He’s exactly like the popular guy except that he isn’t. I feel like in some ways the author tried to turn super popular guy with issues and outcast girl on its head but it didn’t really work because I never really felt like Finch was much of an outcast in personality, nor did I feel like Violet was really that popular girl in personality. There’s no denying that he’s troubled. He’s also I think, clever enough to hide it for the most part. Flippant with his counselor. His friends are used to him disappearing for days as being ‘just what he does’. His mother is not really present – she’s like a facsimile of a parent and as a parent myself, I found her abhorrent. Yes, she’s also a victim but she’s not done playing one long after the threat is removed. Instead she continues to be complicit, but worst of all, she’s mentally absent. She doesn’t want to know anything about Finch’s troubles. They don’t exist. So he pretends that they don’t as well.

Finch and Violet do have some great interactions in this novel. He’s quite pushy, which comes across as a bit irritating at first, both to the reader and Violet but the more Violet spends time with him, the more she begins to emerge from the cocoon of grief that has encircled her since the death of Eleanor, which she more than partially blames herself for. It seems that everyone else in her world is content or perhaps even prefers, not to talk about what happened or even Eleanor herself. Her friends seem both distant and unsupportive but I’m not sure if that’s just because Violet has pushed them away or they don’t know what to say. There’s not really enough background given to really be sure. It seems that Violet barely knows who she is at times – her very identity seems too much tied up in Eleanor, even the website that they had together. When she wants to create another one, it takes her a long time to even decide what it is she wants to do, however it’s also something that gives her the vehicle to create her own circle of friends, to surround herself with people that are like-minded, or who could be.

There’s no denying that I couldn’t quite connect enough with this book to really be devastated at the outcome. Instead, I was merely incredulous, for several reasons, the first already being Finch’s mother. Secondly I’m surprised it took Violet so long to find Finch, because I was pretty sure where he’d be almost immediately. But first the author had to take Violet and the reader on some Tour de Finch which really only serves to attempt to heighten the tension and presumably delay Violet. There seems to be key scenes that are missing – the dual narration is wasted because when we should be with Finch, we’re with Violet. It doesn’t give the reader much of an insight into what is developing, instead it almost seems to randomly happen out of nowhere. Despite the fact that Finch has a fascination with death, at times it seems almost an abstract thing, like a character quirk. I don’t feel like it really went deep enough into Finch’s head, that we really got to see the ugly reality. Instead it felt a bit romanticised to me.

I did like this book, but ultimately I think it could’ve been more. There could’ve been a deeper exploration and especially, more about the after. A few vague scenes to me weren’t really enough, especially with what some of the characters had already had to cope with. It’s the sort of book where I read it and was really quite enjoying it and the adventures of Violet and Finch as they explored their state and got to know each other. The relationship felt good, but then I got to the end and realised that it really hadn’t played out in a way that made me a part of it. It felt like a book that just barely skimmed the surface, instead of diving into the deep.

7/10

Book #17 of 2015

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One response to “Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

  1. This sounds like a good emotional development story, sounds like the characters go through a lot and also learn a lot from each other. I’ve heard a lot of hype from this book too! Glad you liked it, and I must comment on your 7/10. I think that’s awesome. It gives a much better idea of the story I like the out of ten thing! 🙂 Great review as well! Descriptive but not spoilery. 🙂

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