All the Bright Places
By Jennifer Niven
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 978 0 141 35703 4
Coincidence plays a massive part in the lives of the two fragile and damaged teenagers at the centre of Jennifer Niven’s Young Adult debut All the Bright Places.
The book is a colossal four hundred pages but Niven needs all this space to tell Finch and Violet’s story. And not a word is wasted in this honest portrayal of a girl who needs to move on from a past tragedy and a boy who cannot cope with life even when it presents hope and promise.
Violet and Finch might be archetypical protagonists in modern YA fiction, but Niven is such an inventive writer that they appear as fresh as when we first meet them at the inevitable closure of their story.
Violet Markey is smart, artistic and cautious. After a tragic car accident in which her sister Eleanor is killed, Violet – who feels responsible – cannot come to terms with it all.
Her teachers, parents and friends suddenly become cautious around her; they treat her very differently, and this does not help. Violet’s mind is jumbled with contradictions, but coincidence offers a way forward and she cautiously seizes it.
Theodore Finch had a bad year. The only way he could cope was by checking out of the world. He was there physically, but he was in nowhere-land mentally. Things are a bit better now, but his family still treats him cautiously and his classmates call him ‘the Freak’.
Violet and Finch go to the same school. The two don’t know each other until a dramatic coincidence throws them together.
She doesn’t know how or why, but Violet finds herself standing on the ledge of her school’s bell tower, high above the ground and frozen with fear. Theodore Finch, the Freak, is standing on the same ledge, preparing to jump into oblivion. Finch becomes aware of the other person standing on the ledge, calms her down and gets her back to safety. He found a reason not to climb back onto the ledge.
Violet and Finch discover each other, and a tentative relationship develops. But amidst the emotional turmoil, can they help each other get back on track?
The author is clear and uncompromising, and she devotes time to building up Finch and Violet whist taking on difficult themes.
This stunning novel will keep readers totally rapt with the two compelling teens. A sometimes upsetting, but ultimately exhilarating read for older teens.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org