Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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I absolutely can’t stand spoilers. Even if I know with 99.95% accuracy that someone isn’t going to see a movie/read a book, I still hate giving away an ending. On the list of things that really shouldn’t happen in a civilized society, spoilers are up there with putting gum anywhere other than a garbage can and not liking The Office. The problem is, I can’t review this book the way I want to without edging close to the spoiler line. So with a bit of regret and without further ado:

**SPOILER ALERT: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS BORDERLINE SPOILERS. (as in you’ll know part of the end without knowing who it happens to)**

Please enjoy the following gifs that should give you enough time to decide whether you actually want to read the full review or not.

Yay, you’re still here!

So here’s a quick rundown of the book: Entertaining? Check. Unique, intelligent, and endearing main characters? Check. References to Italian poets, Dr. Suess, and a British astronomer? Check. This book has a lot going for it. What’s tripping me up is whether or not I actually  recommend it.

All the Bright Places follows a pattern similar to The Fault in Our Stars. Two teens who are abnormally intelligent, quirky, and introspective fall in love despite their personal struggles with illness. Unlike John Green’s ultra-popular couple Hazel and Augustus, Violet and Finch deal with mental illness rather than physical illness. Finch, who is called “Theodore Freak” by the jerks at school, helps Violet cope after the death of her older sister. Their relationship moves a little fast in my opinion, but overall there are plenty of cute, fun moments.

Okay, but a warning: it’s not all cute and fun. One thing that struck me about this book is how hopeless it feels. All the Bright Places deals with mental illness and teenage suicide so I didn’t anticipate a sunshine happy ending.  Actually, a sunshine happy ending would have felt insincere and out-of-touch. However, this book didn’t seem to allow for even a possibility of a way out for the character who ends up committing suicide. I understand that depression is horrible and that those who deal with it often feel deeply helpless and lost. However, a YA (emphasis on YA) book about depression and bipolar disorder that doesn’t indicate a glimmer of hope seems like it could be such a damaging thing for a teen who is struggling with mental illness.

My reaction to this book made me think about the controversy surrounding the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. I personally haven’t seen the show, and I read the book so long ago that I barely remember it. What I’ve gathered from talking to friends and reading articles is that although the show raises awareness about the desperation many teens go through, it presents teenage suicide in a concerning way.

Here’s one article that talks about the show from a psychologist’s perspective: 13 Reasons Why: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

All the Bright Places resembles several of the “bad” and “ugly”elements that the author of the article connects to 13 Reasons Why. All the Bright Places certainly glamorizes suicide and, to an extent, mental illness. After a character commits suicide, it’s described as if he/she has moved on to another exciting world to adventure and explore. Also, like 13 Reasons Why, All the Bright Places suggests that suicide can “reform a sinner, soften a bully.” (A quote from the article, not the book.) Several supporting characters in All the Bright Places are completely changed after the suicide and behave like new people. Honestly, I liked these characters much better at the end, but their transformations didn’t feel realistic.

Despite all of this, the book raises awareness about mental illness, which ultimately seems like a positive thing. It reminds readers that you never know what the people around you are dealing with, so it’s best to treat everyone with kindness and respect. Many of my negative feelings toward this book were lifted after I read the “Author’s Note” at the end. Jennifer Niven drew from personal experience when she wrote All the Bright Places, and knowing that she understood first-hand what it felt like to lose a significant other to suicide made the whole story feel more genuine. I suppose my main advice is to be cautious when reading this book or recommending it to a teen.

Overall, All the Bright Places is a book to make you reflect on life and the way you treat others.

Until the next book!

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