Review of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
FACTS ABOUT THE BOOK
Title: All The Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Genre: High School Romance + Mental Illness
BACK OF THE BOOK
MY THOUGHTS ON THE BOOK
I read Jennifer Niven's second Young Adult novel Holding Up The Universe (click here for my review) before I read this one. This is why All The Bright Places reminded me very much of Holding Up The Universe; it was extremely obvious from the structure and writing style, that these two books were written by the same author. The books have many similarities like the constant change between the male and the female protagonists' point of views. The protagonists in both books also share a tragic backstory and/or mental illness, with which the reader of the book gets confronted very quickly. The rest of both of the books is then about the two protagonists dealing with their issues while getting to know each other better and falling in love with each other.
I guess you will always enjoy that book more that you read first out of these two, because the other one will just feel a bit like the same all over again.
Throughout the first half of the book I wasn't sure at all whether I actually liked Finch (the male protagonist). His chapters were quite interesting but whenever I imagined him as a real person I thought that I wouldn't find him likeable at all because he was way too clinging. He also sort of reminded me of some rather annoying pupils, which also made it harder for me to sympathise with him. He seemed to try way too hard to get attention and attraction from others, and while that made sense when his illness was explained, it still made it harder for me to connect with him. I just didn't know what to think of him.
But at least his chapters were full of his thoughts and I kind of grew on him more throughout the book because he showed so much depth and inside.
Violet, the female protagonist, on the other hand, didn't seem to open up at all in her chapters. I found it extremely hard to connect with her on any level because there was no real balance between Finch's part and Violet's part in the book, as it was the case in Holding Up The Universe. Finch's chapters took up 70 to 80% of the book - or at least it felt like that. This is also why it was very hard for me to get an understanding of Violet's character. I always felt like I just got to see her through Finch's rose-tinted glasses but never got to see the "real" Violet - if there even was more to her than I got the impression from her chapters. And I really started to doubt that and wonder whether Violet was actually not that special as a character but just seen as one through Finch's eyes. Finch went on rambling about how extraordinary Violet was a lot, but as a reader I didn't really get that sense of her at all while reading her chapters. She just seemed to be the only girl that was interested in Finch.
Violet didn't seem to really open up throughout the whole book and therefore I never felt like I had a clear image of her. And although I also didn't feel like I had a clear image of Finch, I still felt like I knew him better because he offered much more inside to his thoughts (at least in the beginning).
As it was also the case in Holding Up The Universe: the two protagonists seemed to be mainly defined through their tragic past and/or mental illness, and that was also what made them special. Finch's character had definitely more to offer than just his illness, but his character had a total personality change in the second half of the book where I completely lost touch with him.
The chapters are not as quick as they are in Holding Up The Universe, and that slowed down my reading speed immensely at first. It took me 150 pages to finally get into the book and sort of enjoy it. Beforehand I actually had to force myself through most of the pages. A lot of Finch's thoughts are very philosophical and that takes a while to get used to. But when I did I started to like Finch's overflowing mind.
There's a bit of a roadtrip within the book and I wasn't so sure about that at first because I feel like I've read about roadtrips a bit too often in Young Adult books. Nevertheless, I ended up liking that part because I enjoyed the different and rather unique places that were visited.
In contrast to how I felt about the romance in Holding Up The Universe, I really liked the one in All The Bright Places. I enjoyed the slow burning of the attraction between Violet and Finch way more than that of Jack and Libby in Holding Up The Universe. I could definitely feel a spark between Violet and Finch but I didn't like it at all that Finch felt like he was only worthy because he was loved by a girl. That problematic message didn't get cleared up throughout the rest of the book.
Another point that I enjoyed was the portrayal of the parents of the protagonists. I liked that they played an important role in the story and that they were given quite a lot of space.
I didn't like that there seemed to only be idiots besides Violet and Finch. It was portrayed (also in Holding Up The Universe) as if everyone but them is extremely superficial and straight-forward and flat as a character. After reading the two books of Jennifer Niven I also got the undertone that only characters to whom something terrible has happened in the past or who have to deal with a mental illness are deep and interesting characters. I would have very much liked some interesting side characters in this book.
On a rather superficial note: I already quite liked the cover of the book before I read it but I could draw a connection between Finch's room and the cover while reading the book, which I found very nice. I always love it when there's a note in the book as to why the title or the cover of the book are like that.
Can I recommend the book to you?I'm actually not quite sure. Unlike Holding Up The Universe, this is neither a quick read nor in any way uplifting, but rather the opposite. The whole book is overshadowed by depressive thoughts of suicide and that just puts you down. If you are interested in books that deal with suicidal characters, this might be for you. Because of the fact that I couldn't really connect to the two protagonists, their stories couldn't reach me on an emotional level, so it wasn't even that much of an emotional read for me. I felt a bit gutted in the end but it couldn't touch me in the way that I want tragic stories to touch me. If you already read something sad that pulls you down, I think you should at least be able to get emotional over it and feel something, but unfortunately, the book couldn't make me feel much.
There is a definite need for more books that deal with suicide because this topic gets very often silenced - but I'm not sure that this book was really needed. It also felt very hard to rate this book after I finished it, and it still does now. It wasn't a bad book but it also wasn't an extraordinary book like it was and is praised to be.
So I would probably not recommend it to you.
I award this book with 2,5 out of 5 stars.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING (SPOILERS!)
It's not really hard to guess what will happen but I was still a bit shocked when Finch got pulled out of the water just like that, so suddenly. It felt like the book wanted to make the reader guess whether he's dead or not for a while but then the next sentence suddenly said that they pulled him out of the water.. and so he was dead - and I couldn't feel anything. It was so weird because I felt like Finch's chapters had so much more pages and depth than Violet's had, but in the second part of the book that changed drastically and Finch suddenly disappeared completely. That disappearance took place in the same time in which Finch's personality completely changed, which also made me lose touch with him. His whole personality change happened so quickly and afterwards he was suddenly gone and as the reader I was left with only Violet, the character I didn't even feel like knowing really.. I felt so disconnected to the characters then, which is probably also why Finch's suicide didn't make me cry or even shed a single tear. I just had a heavy feeling in my stomach after finishing the book and had to talk about it with someone for a bit.
Feel very welcome to share your experience with this book in the comments.
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