Shining brightly

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book primarily because I was preparing for a young adult reading conference where Jennifer Niven was giving a keynote and appearing in some panels. I was aware of comparisons to TFIOS and I had heard a lot about the story from my students, so I thought I owed it to Jennifer to read it. I am so very glad I made the effort.
The opening scenes had me worried – and I was prepared to put it down – until Violet and Finch were thrown together (after Finch had saved her in the bell tower) for the geography project. I loved this device. Making them grow a relationship based on a task they had to perform actually felt realistic to me, rather than the two of them just hanging out because of the bell tower incident.
As it became evident that Finch was bipolar, and that Violet was harbouring huge survivor guilt after a car crash in which her sister died, I was willing the two of them together. I wanted them to save each other.
Finch’s manic episodes force Violet to be part of a world she has been hiding from; to step forward into the light and exist again. As she does this, little by little Finch starts to retreat into himself until he has nowhere else to go. I don’t want to write much more in the way of plot, because I want readers to pick this up and discover it’s magic for themselves. What I do want to say is more to some of the people who have pretty much trashed this novel in their reviews.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinions about this book, and not everyone is going to enjoy this story. It can be hard going at times, and there are some who might find it quite distressing. That said, it should be remembered that Jennifer Niven has stated that this novel was born of very real personal loss. This was clearly a way of honouring and processing that. As someone who experienced something similar at the age of 21, I embraced this novel, this tribute, and I respect it. For some to say Jennifer has “copied” other novels is simply untrue and does her a disservice. This is a story told from the heart. Her heart.
Read it, don’t read it. Your choice. But don’t discount it and how it might reach out to just one person who might need it, at just the right time.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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