Book Review: All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven

A look at the characters in this heartbreaking YA story


Maryam Badmos, Contributor

Synopsis: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might kill himself, but every day he also searches for—and manages to find—something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small 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—six stories above the ground— it’s unclear who saves whom. Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself. 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. . . .

This book was really good. My friend Geniesa recommended it to me and it took me a while to find it but I’m glad I did. It made me cry, which is something because I can’t remember the last time a fictional story brought me to tears. The overall story is really nice, it’s coherent and the pacing is well. There were a couple sentences that made me look sideways, but other than that I have no bad things to say about this book. The character work in this book is probably some of the best I’ve seen. 

Violet: Violet is one of the main characters, and at the beginning of the book, she is mourning the loss of her sister, who died in a car accident. She’s kind of just going through the motions. As the book progresses, she really grows and matures and is able to process her sister’s death: she stops wearing her glasses, she starts writing again, and she is able to drive and be driven again. I was so worried she’d be a manic pixie dream girl type character, but she’s far from that. She’s not above using makeup or dressing nice or “being like other girls,” which is refreshing. And apart from her relationship with Theodore, she has her own stuff going on and it’s explored pretty well. As sad as the ending of the book was, I was happy for Violet and glad to see the way she grew as a character. 

The character work in this book is probably some of the best I’ve seen.

Finch: Theodore (“Finch”) was a bit of an oddball, but I really liked him. He was very smart and interesting and kind of funny. At first, I wasn’t sure about him, because he said some weird things, but I grew very fond of him pretty quickly. It was interesting to see the way he thought, and how he dealt with stressful situations, and I especially liked the characters he created for himself as he tried to figure out who he was. It was clear he had some mental health issues, and it broke my heart that some of the people close to him didn’t look into it more. For example, when he disappeared near the end of the book, and his family and friends responded with the attitude, “that’s just what he does.” I wanted to throw the book at the wall. It was so obvious he needed help, but he wasn’t letting himself get any, and that broke my heart, because he deserved the chance to get better. I got to a point in the book where I knew what was about to happen, and it was so sad because I really wish he could’ve gotten the chance to grow up and explore all the places and things he liked. 

Amanda: Amanda was more of a side character, and she was one of the kids that made fun of Finch. I obviously don’t like that about her, but what I do like is what the author did with her character. So many ‘mean girl’ types are one dimensional and exist only to bully another character, but Amanda had some depth to her. She struggled with suicidal thoughts and bulimia, and it was nice to see she had layers. While I wish she would have explained more why she was so mean to Finch, it was nice to see her becoming a better person, little by little, at the end of the story.

All the Bright Places is a very good, but very sad book. I highly, highly recommend reading it at least once, and it’s probably one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read.