All The Bright Places #BookReview

Book Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places had been on my TBR for a long long time. Finally, I got to it over the lockdown.

Quickly, here’s what it’s about

This is the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theo Finch is the quintessential misfit, the ‘freak’ of the school while Violet Markey is a passionate writer and one of the most popular girls. While Theo has a history of depression, Violet has recently lost her sister in an accident leading her to withdraw into herself.

The two meet on top of the school bell tower teetering at its edge. Finch talks to Violet, persuading her to get down and in the process saves himself too. Later, they are paired off for a geography assignment ‘Wander’ where they have to discover and document the wonders of the state of Indiana. As they journey through the state, slowly, reluctantly (for Violet) they strike up a friendship as they try to heal each other.

What I thought of it

The story unfolds through two perspectives with Finch and Violet taking up the narrative, in turn, giving us a glimpse of both their points of view.

Let me first talk about our two protagonists

Finch is fascinating. We get to know early on that he is battling depression/bipolar disorder. He has many personalities hidden away inside him. There’s this thing he does – every few days he takes on a personality and then he proceeds to talk, walk and act as that person would. That had me intrigued. I do get though, that it might have appeared very confusing to people around him, specially to Violet. Once, in a wave of frustration, she demands which one is his ‘real’ self.

Finch obsesses about suicide, researching is, writing about it, even experimenting with it often, constantly on an edge.

He’s a bit of a bully when it comes to Violet. It annoyed me but it works in her favour because he drags her out of her depression, pulling her along on the path to recovery, slowly but surely.

In stark contrast to Finch, Violet’s character seems rather dull. While he hides way his dark periods under a flamboyant devil-may-care attitude, she is quiet and withdrawn. I couldn’t connect with her character; which is strange because I loved the relationship she shared with her sister and I could empathise with her emotions as she tries to come to terms with the latter’s death. Yet, she lacked the layers and depth that Finch had. 

In any case, the more flawed a character the more interesting it is, and Finch has a definite advantage there.

The idea of ‘Wander’

The idea of wandering around your own city or state is charming. I loved the places Theo and Violet discovered. We often take our surroundings, our towns, cities and states for granted. Every young person should try to take up this assignment and rediscover his place of birth, should try to look at it as a tourist would.

Violet’s blog

Violet has a blog, along with her sister, which she abandons after the latter’s death. As she recovers she decides to launch another web-magazine titled Germ that has everything a young adult might need – from fashion and style to counselling and help for mental issues. 

What’s even more fascinating is that the Germ Magazine for young adults really does exist. Taking the idea beyond the book and making it real is fantastic.

Tackling young adult mental health issues

All the Bright Places tackles the issue of mental health among young adults with depth and subtlety. It’s heartbreaking to watch how helpless Finch is in the face of his depression, how desperately he wants to stay ‘awake’. He puts on a cheerful front but he longs to be understood. 

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.”

I hated the near-absence of his mom. I get that she had a lot to deal with in her own personal life but I couldn’t wrap my head around the way she left Finch to his own devices, knowing that he had mental health issues. I was so so sorry for him. It made me sad to watch a smart and intelligent boy having to struggle to stay afloat like he did.

On the contrary, Violet has a very clear advantage in how invested her parents are in her well-being, how clued in they are to her every mood, how they celebrate every small sign of recovery. And that is perhaps why she stands a better chance at recovery.

I have to admit I found the end disappointing. It left me feeling angry and frustrated.

The title of the book

I thought a lot about the title and what it meant to convey. This definitely isn’t a ‘Bright’ book. In fact it’s rather morbid. That said, there are some genuinely warm, happy moments and that is perhaps what the title implies: that all of us have some ‘bright places’ even though darkness might lurk around the edges. Or perhaps it implies Violet’s and Theo’s wanderings and the ‘Bright’ places they encounter along the way. I’d love to hear what you thought if you have read this book.

All the Bright Places: The film

Obviously, I had to go and look up the film after I was done with the book. And obviously, I found it wanting. It was too slow for my liking. I did like Justice Smith, who plays Finch, perhaps because of my bias towards that character. As for Violet, she was even more uninspiring than the one in the book.

Last thought: Not the perfect book to read during a lockdown but if mental health issues intrigue you, you’ll like this one.

22 Replies to “All The Bright Places #BookReview”

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Tulika. I am really looking for a bright book, a bright movie/tv series amidst all the gloom.

    But I love your detailed review. Kudos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not a series Damyanti – just a film. So much easier to watch. And the book is way better.


  2. Oh how I detest such books where the characters are so insipid; worse is when these books get hyped as a movie is made on them. Going to give this one a miss as well as the movie/series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh no no Shalz, the characters weren’t insipid, specially Finch. I’m sorry if I gave that impression. It’s definitely worth a read to understand what it’s like for a youngster going through mental issues.


  3. Poorly etched characters are a turn-off, alright. I like the topic though. Mental health needs to be handled sensitively in a story and I might just watch the movie here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d say read the book before you watch the film, specially if mental health interests you. The pain is so real and the way people with depression withdraw into themselves even from people they love and care for was beautifully expressed. It’s sad, yes but I’m glad I did read the book.


  4. I like the central idea / theme on which this book is based. But I am hesitant to pick it up right now, when there is so much uncertainty and chaos in the world. I need happier books right now.

    The other thing that has kept me away from the book is that many many reviews have mentioned that they aren’t satisfied with how things wrapped up.

    So I don’t know, I might pass on this one, and see the movie instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t happy too with the ending and you’re right for staying away from it for now. But do make time to read it later. It’s a decent enough read.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am having this book on my Kindle but havent got around to read it as yet. Oh, endings that leave you angry and frustrated… I hate them. And if the characters do not inspire confidence… then it’s all the more sad. Guess, will let this one pass.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Read it Shilpa, in happier times though. It’s worth it for the reasons I mentioned in my review.


  6. Nope, I am not reading it. WIth my own mental health issues–my anxiety that keeps me feeling miserable all the time–I am looking for books that take my mind away from the reality we all are facing today, and also from the issues we face on a personal level.
    WIll skip this one, but as always, I loved your review. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get it. Don’t read it, definitely not now. Maybe when you’re in a happier quieter frame of mind. It gives a pretty clear picture of what a young adult goes through during depression.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I did too. I imagined it would be a happy book, one filled with hope. It had its happy moments but it definitely wasn’t a happy book.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am always drawn towards the books that talk about mental health issues.

    I loved your review because you so wonderfully highlighted all the good and not so good aspects of the book. Adding it to my to-read list 🙂


  8. I just finished this book! I agree that Finch’s character is way more intriguing. I appreciate how real the mental health representation was in this book, though. And I haaated the movie. It didn’t have any of the depth that the book had.


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