[Book & Adaptation Review] All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

5/5 Stars

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.” – Goodreads

First Impressions

All the Bright Places is all over social media right now, due to the Netflix release. Honestly, it’s the reason why I decided to read it this month. It’s been on my TBR for a long time, so I’m using the adaptation as an excuse to bump it to a higher spot on the list.

On social media, everyone suggests reading (and watching) this novel with a box of tissues. I hate sad stories. I don’t mind brutal, gory, scary, or intense novels, but the ones that make me cry… well, you can say I’m an ugly crier.

With that being said, I was excited to read this because of the hype and the story. I love the cover and its simplicity. I love the character names and how they’re being represented by symbols (Finch and Violet). Despite the tissues, I am excited to dive into this book.

Main Elements

Plot. To say this book tore me apart is putting it lightly. I almost wanted to scrap my usual formatting for writing reviews, but decided it had to stay. I was battling which element to discuss first because this is a character-driven plot, but the plot itself is incredibly powerful. This marks a sign of an excellent writer. Niven had this expert balance between plot and characterization, which I cannot say is true for most writers I’ve read in this genre.

I loved the plot in this book. We have two teenagers who meet at the top of a bell tower, both intending on jumping (sort of). They talk each other down and build a solid friendship turned romantic relationship out of their experiences. One of the main points in the plot is a school project. They are tasked with the challenge of “wandering” their state.

The idea behind the wandering is that these seniors won’t be in the lovely state of Indiana much longer. Their teacher wants them to experience the state before moving away for college. So, Violet and Finch end up partners and start to chart their wanderings on a map.

The book’s hard plot, as I’m going to refer to it, is this project. They go on this journey together, making memories and inside jokes along the way. The book’s soft plot is that Finch is battling suicidal thoughts and a hard home life.

This plot dives deep into teen suicide, bullying, and making friendships.

Characters. All character introduced in All the Bright Places are well developed and dynamic, even the secondary ones. Violet recently lost her sister in a car accident and has a lot of grief to wade through. Her character is gray and murky, because that’s what it feels like to lose someone close to you. It feels like the world has lost color and Jennifer Niven did a great job at depicting that loss. Violet shows the most character growth throughout the novel, which I loved.

Finch is a weird person with a few close friends and a crappy home life. He switches personas when he feels like he’s changed as a person. He also has depression, which is evident throughout the novel. His character really confused me at first because I didn’t know how literal Niven was being toward his Awake and Asleep phases. He goes through phases where he goes to Sleep, where he blacks out and doesn’t resurface for days to weeks to months. He wants to stay Awake, so he fights off his Sleep. That’s the only part that really confused me in this novel.

Setting. The setting was developed beautifully. Violet and Finch visit so many places and interact with various odd attractions. The detail Niven put into the map and the places associated with it was stunning.

Theme. There were multiple themes of this book. The top one being suicide awareness. You don’t need me preaching at you about suicide, as most of us have had a brush with it in one way or another, but All The Bright Places truly dives deep with this theme.

Reason for Rating

I gave All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven a 5/5 star rating because of how detailed the plot was. The ending is crazy and unexpected. I knew I would cry and that this book is about teen suicide, but that ending tore me apart in ways I didn’t expect.

For Teachers

I would love to tell you that this book is perfect for every classroom library because I think it has important themes and is a book that all teens should read. I seriously believe that, but because of how the world is and the nature of this book, I’m not sure this book is great for all audiences. I would use your judgement and definitely read this book before doing anything professional with it.

That being said, I am going to build a literature unit around this novel for teachers who want to discuss these themes with high school students. Permission slips will be needed, but I think there are some important lessons for both bullies and kids that feel suicidal in this book.

Grades: 9-12

The Netflix Adaptation

1/5 Stars

I DNF’ed (did not finish) the movie. I’ve never stopped an adaptation half-way through before, but I couldn’t stand the inaccuracies.

If you haven’t read this book yet, please read it before attempting the movie. The book is much, much better. I promise!

Now, if you’ve read the book, please keep reading. If you haven’t, do not proceed.

Spoiler warning!

I hated that they messed up the opening scene. Of all scenes to change, why that one? It was the foundation for Violet and Finch’s relationship. Without that intense bond, with both of them knowing what the other was thinking, the plot would not have succeeded.

Their relationship was rushed and cliched. It didn’t feel like the same connections were being made between the two characters and it felt awkward.

Another plot-altering decision they made was to change Violet’s parents. In the book, they lived their lives like Eleanor’s death didn’t affect them, for the betterment of their surviving daughter. They thought they were doing the right thing, but it drove Violet to feel alone and frustrated, which propelled her to the bell tower.

Everything is connected in this novel, so one change like that changes the entire plot and feeling of the story line.

Finch and Violet’s relationship progressed too quickly and awkwardly. If they did the above scenes correctly, it would’ve trickled down to their relationship, giving the couple a possibility of realism.

I stopped watching during the romance-relationship-montage thing, where it showed Finch and Violet going to the shoe tree. I cried because I was so mad. That scene is sacred and they ruined it. That scene was at the end of the book, after Finch died. It was one of the places he left behind for her.

They ruined so much of this movie and I was frustrated the entire time I was watching it, but that scene was the last straw for me. You don’t mess with the ending of a novel like that.

In conclusion, the book was amazing. The movie sucked big time. Don’t watch the movie. It’ll be almost two hours of your life that you can’t get back.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven was published September 13, 2016 by Ember (reprint). She is the founder of Germ Magazine, a real literary magazine for teens, which you can find here http://www.germmagazine.com/. To view her other written works, visit her website https://www.jenniferniven.com/!

Sarah

Hi, everyone! I have worked in the field of education since I was nineteen and have a passion for literature. I have five years of experience as a library media specialist (paraprofessional), 2 years as a substitute teacher, and I am currently a general education paraprofessional. I have a Bachelor's in Library Media and Science, which I intend to use to eventually become a youth services librarian. I'm a proud book nerd, writer, gamer, hiker, and baker.

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