Niven’s latest masterpiece focuses on two teenagers who face similar problems but deal with them in very different ways.
The novel opens from the point of view of Theodore Finch, who goes solely by Finch because he thinks it sounds cooler.
In the beginning, it’s difficult for the reader to get a good read on Finch. Although his thoughts are sporadic and the dialogue is sometimes choppy, the reader quickly learns how to understand him.
Finch has a constant stream of thoughts in which the teenager ponders ways he could kill himself. This fact is incredibly morbid and extremely heartbreaking for the reader, but we come to learn there is always an outside force that seems to stop him.
On the day they meet, that force happens to be Violet Markey, a fellow teenager who cannot decide if she wants to escape to the future or travel back to the past.
She may have been Finch’s good force, but he also seems to be hers.
To say this book completely avoids clichés would not be true, but Niven makes an effort to avoid all but one of the typical storylines readers have come to expect from young adult novels.
Of course, All the Bright Places just has to be a love story between Finch and Violet.
When they meet on the edge of their school’s bell tower, Finch saves Violet from killing herself, even though he had been contemplating the same action when approaching the building.
Since Finch is known as the weird kid and Violet is the one with friends, their peers at school quickly assume she was the brave soul who traveled to the top of the tower to save “Freaky Finch,” and is proclaimed the hero.
The truth is Violet is struggling with depression after her sister was killed in a car accident, and she is in a place that is just as dark as Finch’s.
Apart from the love story many young adult readers yearn for, All the Bright Places hits home for any person who has ever struggled with depression, regardless of the cause.
At first, Violet doesn’t want them to be publicly known as friends. She doesn’t want them to be anything, because that would ruin the façade that she’s fine.
Then, when a teacher assigns a group project and Violet and Finch are paired together, the two begin to get to know each other better. The point of the project is to go around to find a few special parts of their state to showcase, which is where the title of the novel comes from.
Finch and Violet make the project bearable by turning it into a game, and it slowly becomes more fun than work.
The thing I love about Niven’s writing style is how real she makes the characters’ experiences feel for the reader, making it easy to be consumed by the story.
On the other hand, I felt like the novel never really had a significant climax. The plot had a very dramatic part, but it only left the reader feeling empty.
The only time a lack of resolution should occur at the end of a novel is in the case of a cliffhanger, and what Niven serves readers with was something different.
Although common reviews say otherwise, I think Niven could have done more with the novel. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good heartbreaker, though.