Book review: Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places

Soon to be a major motion picture – written on the cover, in the form of a post-it note. “The story of a boy called Finch and a girl named Violet”, it declaims. This was another of my TBR (to-be-read) pile from the building exchange. I’ve offered it to a colleague, but I’ll need to figure out how to send a parcel… these weird little things that you have no idea of the process for, when you move countries. I’m sure it’s easy, but yeah, I’ve never sent a parcel by mail in my life.

A Violet and Theodore Finch – some post-it-notes and a story of figuring out life

Genre: Young Adult… LitFic?

It’s definitely a book that’s outside my usual reading range. I’ve been branching out – I’ve not read much young adult fiction at all. I know lots of people rave about it, and lots of it is written. Lots of wild tales of teenage heroes and heroines, usually up against the world that is doing some monstrous wrong or living in some weird society. I’ve read a good deal more Buildungsromans in my literary adventures this far – characters start as children and slowly age over the course of the book.

This one, also, I would say is LitFic-ish, in a post-modern kinda way – it’s certainly got flavours of classic literature dashed through it, with references to Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I’ve not read this particular one (and, well, the characters haven’t either, initially). But there is a bit of a Woolfian energy around time and death in it. The characters quote The Waves at each other via text message, post-it and facebook over the course of their relationship, as they figure out what it means to be still alive, as they navigate time and place and being teenagers.

Characterisation and Themes

It’s a good book for characterisation, with Theodore Finch (commonly called just Finch), a suicidal teenage boy who catches himself up in a mission to prove the value of life to Violet, a girl who lost her sister in a car accident. He calls Violet ‘Ultraviolet’ – one of the bright places or people that come through the story. The tension between Finch’s drive for Violet to find normality in life after her sister’s death and his own suicidal tendencies makes for really complex and interesting conversations and view-points. The novel is told between their two perspectives in first person, giving the reader a vivid glimpse of counting down the days to leave (Violet), and counting the days without dying (Finch).

Other central themes of the book include art and local exploration around their small town and the greater state it’s set in. Finch and Violet create a list of places to visit for a school project, with Finch slowly but surely increasing Violet’s confidence, and with both of them falling in teenage love. The cover evokes another YA favourite, A Fault In Our Stars, and yes, while thinking of this book after reading, it comes around again to that sort of thematic handling of young love, life and coming to terms with death.

I think this would be a very good book for a grade 11 setwork, because it’s got some good talking points and strong thematic development that could make for good essays. On the other hand, I can see that setting a book like this would likely kill it quite dead.

Worth it?

Yeah, a good read – if not my cup of tea. It made me much more emotional than I was expecting, and the characters were compelling. I don’t know if I’ll seek out YA contemp/LitFic like this again, but I’m glad I read it.

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