Finding decent YA novels is always a small miracle. I know maybe five authors who know how to do YA right. The problem with this genre is that the audience, and often the writers, think that ‘young adult’ means shallow, stupid, hysterical, and all kinds of dumb. Not that it’s entirely incorrect – we’ve all been there, we’ve all done cringe-worthy things as teenagers. It does NOT mean that all YA works have to be like that. Unfortunately, most of them are. The one thing that the YA writers forget sometimes is that their target audience is much smarter than they think. Which is exactly why such authors as John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Laurie Halse Anderson need to be treated like national treasures.
I am happy to add Jennifer Niven to this list.
Her novel All The Bright Places is not just great – it basically brings brilliant to a whole new level. It’s funny, deep, goofy, and heartbreaking, and it’s one of those rare books that you simply can’t put down. Sleep? What is sleep? I stayed awake for 2 days because I HAD to finish it no matter what.
All The Bright Places is the story of Violet Markey, a former cheerleader and it-girl who suddenly finds herself struggling with her life after her older sister, Eleanor, dies in a car crash, and of Theodore Finch, a guy living on the edge because being a step away from death makes him feel alive. United by one final school project, Violet and Finch are set on a literal and a figurative journey to wander Indiana, the state they live in, and to discover all the bright places inside of themselves.
It may sound like a ‘bad boy meets good girl’ cliché, but don’t let it fool you – there’s so much more to the story than the summary on the back of the book.
The story is told from both Finch’s and Violet’s alternating perspectives, allowing us to not only see it from different points of view, but also giving the readers a chance to look at the protagonists through their eyes instead of just the writer’s narration. This particular approach is quite vital for comprehensive understanding of what makes Violet and Finch who they are and why they do the things they do.
Think John Green’s Looking For Alaska and Paper Towns, think The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Just like those books, All The Bright Places is edgier and darker and more surprising than your regular ‘I like him, he doesn’t like me back’ YA novels you forget the moment you reach the last page. It goes deep into the brokenness of young lives, mental health issues, depression, loss, abandonment, and the desperation that comes from knowing that nothing can fix you. It’s frighteningly realistic and yet compelling enough to keep you up all night.
On top of that, the book is written beautifully. It’s full of great quotes and remarkable visuals. The characters, the setting, the struggles Violet and Finch are going through are real enough to be almost palpable. You’re not just reading the story – you’re inside of it, you’re a part of it.
Jennifer Niven obviously did her homework, researching mental health and suicide, and people who had to deal with either surviving a tragedy, or coping with the loss of their loved ones. In fact, I would recommend being careful about this book because it can be quite triggering to those of us who can associate themselves with the main characters one way or the other. Niven herself even goes so far as to add the hotline phone numbers and website links for people struggling with psychological problems at the end of the book.
All The Bright Places is rumoured to be adapted into a movie with Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) as Violet Markey.