Where do I even start with All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven? We reviewed one of her novels back in 2011 and I fell in love with her writing style and her characters. When I saw that she had written a YA novel, I knew I wanted to read it because I knew she would make it sing. What I hadn’t bargained for was just how much it would touch my heart. And, if the social media buzz is any indication, I’m not the only one who needed a box of tissues before I reached the end.
“Oh no,” you may be saying, “Is this a sad novel?” This is an uplifting and amazing novel – a novel about yearning and learning to live and love with all of your heart – to experience life at its fullest no matter your circumstances. It’s a novel for all ages, not just teens and young adults. And I’m thrilled that we’ve got a copy for a giveaway one of you will win! I wish I had enough to give all of you – it’s that good!
Theodore Finch has a problem or two or three: 1), he has to fight to stay awake; 2) he obsesses about death; and 3) he’s known as Theodore Freak at his small town Indiana high school for a number of reasons. His parents are divorced, which should be great news since he was a ripe target for his father’s abuse. What’s not great is that he still has to see his father for weekly meals with his dad’s new family that includes a small son Finch hopes will be treated better than he was.
“Is today the day?
And – if not today – when?”
One of Finch’s favorite places is the school bell tower. When he meets Violet Markey, a popular girl in school, he’s standing on the ledge of said bell tower wondering if today will be the day. He’s decided it’s not really and is about to begin the process of carefully climbing back over the railing to get off of the ledge when he glances over and sees Violet trembling and looking as if she might have decided this will be her day. As he begins to talk soothingly to her, helping her come back off of her mental ledge so she can get off of the physical ledge without falling, he marvels that someone as amazing as Violet could be out on his ledge. It completely throws him because it’s something he never could have imagined.
“…She seems frozen in place.
In my regular, non-preacher voice I say, as calmly as possible.
‘Take it from me, the worst thing you can do is look down.’
Very slowly, she turns her head toward me, and I know this girl, or at least I’ve seen her in the hallways. I can’t resist: ‘Come here often? Because this is my spot and I don’t remember seeing you here before.’
She doesn’t laugh or blink, just gazes out at me from behind those clunky glasses that almost cover her face. She tries to take a step back and her foot bumps the railing. She teeters a little, and before she can panic, I say, ‘I don’t know what brings you up here, but to me the town looks prettier and the people look nicer and even the worst of them look almost kind. Except for Gabe Romero and Amanda Monk and that whole crowd you hang out with.’…
‘It’s starting to rain,’ I say, as if she doesn’t know this. ‘I guess there’s an argument to be made that the rain will wash away the blood, leaving us a neater mess to clean up than otherwise. But it’s the mess part that’s got me thinking. I’m not a vain person, but I am human, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to look like I’ve been run through a wood chipper at my funeral.’
She’s shivering or shaking. I can’t tell which, and so I slowly inch my way toward her, hoping I don’t fall off before I get there, because the last thing I want to do is make a jackass out of myself in front of this girl.”
Unfortunately before he can get her calmed down and back to reality enough to get off the ledge, other students see them up there. So a most chivalrous Finch yells down to them that Violet is saving him. Hell, his reputation is already shot at this school and people already call him a freak. At least this way, he can save Violet from the same humiliation. Frankly, she doesn’t look like she could bear one more thing going wrong.
You see, Violet has her own reasons for being out on that ledge. She had everything going for her until a year ago when a fateful decision resulted in a horrific car accident that killed her older sister, Eleanor. Violet and Eleanor were quite different but at the same time they were so close that they could finish each other’s sentences. They’d even started a very successful blog, EleanorAndViolet.com, where they gave their differing opinions about everything you can imagine. Violet can’t bear to even look at that blog now.
Before the accident, Violet lived and breathed writing. She knew she would be a writer when she grew up because she couldn’t imagine being anything else. Now Violet can’t write – at all. She can’t even take notes in class and she has to get “extenuating circumstance” extensions on her assignments. Everyone thinks she should have moved on after a whole year but she can’t – she just can’t. How can she live when Eleanor is gone?
As Finch and Violet secretly get to know each other, they find they have a lot in common. And Finch finds that Violet gives him an amazing reason to stay awake and keep living. It doesn’t take long for them to fall for each other. Each of them has found someone who they can be completely and openly themselves with. After all, once you’ve been out on a ledge together there can’t be any other secrets that trump that. Finch is able to let Violet see the funny, nurturing, sensitive, go-for-it guy that hides behind his freak status. And Violet is able to share the fears, nightmares, and the invisible chains she’s put on herself. And slowly, very slowly, they both begin to blossom.
When they are partnered up for a school project assignment to discover hidden wonders in Indiana, Violet is certain there aren’t any and Finch is determined to find as many as possible. He sees it as a way to draw Violet out into that real life that’s in progress around her and as a fun way to find even more reasons for him to stay awake and alive. It will be something for them both to look forward to. Maybe he will even be able to entice Violet back into a car again – maybe.
Because everything you read elsewhere about this novel says something similar, I can say that Violet’s world begins to expand just as Finch’s world begins to contract…but that’s all I’m going to say about that…
Violet suffered a horrific tragedy that rocked her normally steady life and she was completely unprepared for it. It’s damaged her and caused her tremendous pain. It remains to be seen to what extent she will remain in pain. Finch had been suffering tragedies repeatedly for his entire life, so you might think he’s used to them by now. Some of you might even think it will make him stronger, a mistaken belief. On the surface, nothing seems to touch him but underneath that is an entirely different story. Underneath he has been repeatedly damaged and is in a great deal of pain. Life dishes out some pretty harsh stuff to all kinds of people and it doesn’t take into account those people’s ages, maturity, or ability to handle those things. Whether those events are survived without creating irrevocable damage isn’t on its agenda. That Violet and Finch even find each other is a bit of a miracle for each one of them. I could go on and on about why each was the way they were but; bottom line? Both of these characters stole my heart in so many ways just by being who they were.
Even if I hadn’t already thought this when I read it, all of the buzz around All The Bright Places is a pretty good indicator that Jennifer Niven has a humongous hit on her hands. That it’s not only been optioned but that Elle Fanning has been attached to the film project says volumes. And it deserves every accolade it gets! This is not just a masterfully written novel about two characters whose story swept me away. It’s a meaningful, touching, honest, and heart-wrenching look at an important but often overlooked subject – teen depression and suicidal ideation. Every parent and school counselor should read it, and every school should have it in its library. Although I hate the word “should” with a passion, it’s that important. As you’ve no doubt already surmised, I highly recommend it for all ages, and I’m delighted we can give a copy to some lucky reader!
Author Appearances & Book Signings:
Wednesday, 1/14/2015 @ 6:30pm Avid Bookshop Athens, GA
Thursday, 1/15/2015 @ 7pm Barnes & Noble Newnan, GA
Friday, 1/16/2015 @ 7pm Malaprop Bookstore Ashville, NC
Friday, 1/23/2015 (time tba) Changing Hands Bookstore Phoenix, AZ
Saturday, 1/24/215 @4pm Yallapalooza @ Changing Hands Bookstore Phoenix, AZ
Thursday-Saturday, 1/29 thru 1/31/2015 ALA Midwinter Chicago, IL
Sunday, 2/8/2015 @ 3pm (By Invitation Only) Partners in Time Literary Event w/ Elle Fanning
@ Brentwood Country Mart Los Angeles, CA
Friday & Saturday, 3/6 & 3/7/2015 NoVA Teen Book Festival Arlington, VA
Wednesday, 3/18 thru 3/27/2015 United Kingdom Book Tour – details tba
Friday, 3/27 thru 4/1/2015 Italy Book Tour – details tba
Can’t wait to read it?
All The Bright Places was published on January 6, 2015, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). Although it’s available in all formats, if you have an e-reader, or an e-reader app for your computer or tablet, then you can download it and have it ready to read right now!
I’d love to get your comments on All The Bright Places, Jennifer Niven or her other work, and/or this review.
Click here to read our review of Velma Jean Learns to Fly.
If you like this review, please contribute to our Reviewers’ Caffeine Fund in the left column. Just a cup a day, that’s all we ask.
One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven!
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 1/24/2015, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
2) This giveaway is open to entries with U.S. mailing addresses only because we do not ship books outside of the U.S.
3) You must be at least 15 years old to enter this giveaway.
4) You must use the Rafflecopter form. Even if leaving a comment is part of the giveaway, you must use the form in addition to leaving the comment for the comment to count as an entry.
5) If you already follow PopcornReads on Twitter or Linky, you must still complete that part of the Rafflecopter form for your follow to count as an entry.
6) If you do not provide a complete mailing address in the Rafflecopter form, your entry will not be eligible. We will only use your mailing address to ship your book to you. Please allow 2-3 weeks for book delivery.
7) That’s it – it’s a very easy giveaway, so have fun and best of luck!
Be sure to check out our other great book giveaways on the home page!