Mini Review/Discussion: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Mini Review/Discussion: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Published by Random House Children's Books on January 6th 2015
Pages: 400

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning!
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.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

I have decided that I am not reviewing this, in the traditional sense. There are loads of great reviews out there.  I am going to talk about it briefly, and basically use it as a segue into what I’d like to discuss.


I simultaneously loved and hated this book. Obviously, it was quite good, otherwise I don’t think the masses would be flailing so loudly. The characters are incredibly likable, the story is interesting, and then your heart will be shattered into all the pieces.

  • Finch and Violet are amazing. Most reviews I have read indicated that they did feel more of a connection with Finch, and I agree, at least in the beginning. But Violet’s journey made me fall in love with her as well, and by the end, I may have even loved her more.
  • They take awesome trips. I want to do this! They take these amazing adventures, which stem from a school project. Yes, some of the things seem dumb at first, but they aren’t. I love exploring.
  • My heart was seriously in shambles for days after finishing this book. This does not mean that it was all doom and gloom, however. It just broke me a bit.
  • This book is absolutely not perfect. It isn’t flawless, but that was okay. Its purpose was so much bigger than just being a good book.


 Mental Health & YA

When I was in my early teen years, there weren’t a ton of choices in fiction. There was a point where series like The Baby-Sitter’s Club were just too young for me to relate to, but the “adult” books were way too adult.  There were a handful of authors who wrote books geared toward teens and young adults, but the market was small. Some of my friends read Sweet Valley High, but I had a strong dislike for them. Plus, they were pretty dated by the time I was a teen. After I devoured the few books that I was able to find, I was basically a reader without a book.

And of the books I was able to find, I will tell you exactly how many of them dealt with mental health issues: Zero. There wasn’t a book that talked about being so anxious you thought you’d be physically ill. There weren’t any characters describing the overwhelming sadness they felt or the crying jags they experienced for seemingly no reason. No one had obsessions, compulsions, bipolar disorder, eating and body image issues, psychosis, suicidal ideations, or basically any other issue. There was an overwhelming lack of diversity in general, but that is a topic for another time.

I was a reader since a very young age. I credit a lot of positive things to the books I read as a child. But never, ever did I read a book in which a character was dealing with the same issues I was. None of my friends were dealing with these things. My parents always called me “dramatic” when I’d be holed up in my room sobbing. There was, quite frankly, nowhere to turn. Now that I am older, and know that I can and should seek treatment for my particular issues (depression and anxiety), I do. But that was (and is) a long road. As a teen, I had no idea that I could go to a doctor, to a counselor. Because I didn’t have a “problem”, I was just “dramatic” and “sensitive”.

Books like All the Bright Places are changing that. There are books out there talking about mental illness on a very real level. Not a sugarcoated, false hope laden version of the severity, but the actual difficulties and struggles that people with mental health issues face. The best part? All the Bright Places isn’t the first, and most importantly, it will not be the last. 

Over the past year, I have read quite a few positively amazing books dealing with mental health in a very real and honest way. Without stigma or judgment, just honesty and conviction. One that really stuck with me was Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson, which portrays a girl who suffers from obsessive thoughts and making “rules” for herself to follow so that the obsessive thoughts don’t become reality.

The best part is, I have so many more to read! Books that have already been released, as well as several ARCs that deal with mental health are all on my TBR, and it is starting to feel like maybe it is finally becoming more common to be open with mental health, as opposed to it being a “new” topic.

Will books alone change the way a person struggling with mental health issues feels? Not likely. But it’s a step to changing the way society feels about mental health. Maybe a book will urge one person to ask for help, to reach out. Maybe it will make one person feel a little less alone, a little less afraid. And if a book can do that? It was worth every single word. 

Have any books helped you through a particularly hard time? Do you think there is a shift in how books, YA in particular, are dealing with mental health? What changes do you hope to see?

Posted January 21, 2015 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Discussion, Discussion Challenge, Review , / 32 Comments

32 responses to “Mini Review/Discussion: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

  1. I am so glad more books are dealing with the issue of mental health because they make teens feel like they’re not alone. These books are also necessary as mental health issues are more hidden and taboo than say physical disabilities. These books are also helping end the stigma that talkking about, or dealing with depression, OCD, and other disorders is a private family matter and one people should be ashamed of.
    That said, I’d like more books written about people with physical disabilities. I know there are books out there about people with CP, and I haven’t read them so I can’t judge. However, I just feel that it’s important for people to see that no matter what a person’s disability, they are capable of being productive members of society. As a blind person myself, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been turned down or shunned because of my disability. I want people to have the opportunity to see that blind people, deaf people, and other people with disabilities can do just as much as they can with a few work arounds.
    Another issue I’d love to see discussed in books is characters with a mental disability such as autism. I feel that society underestimates the value of these people and they need to be represented in books. Like people with physical disabilities, people need to see that a person with a mental disability can also be a productive member of society if given the chance.
    Lastly, I’d love to see an incorporation of characters with say a physical and mental disability or physical disability along with depression or OCD. As a person who has dealt with depression and is still coming to terms with it, I want to see characters I can relate to.
    I’m so sorry for the long rant/comment.

    • First of all, I am incredibly sorry that people behave that way. That is wrong in so many ways, I cannot even put it into words. I am ashamed of society as a whole for allowing that to happen to you. Those people who judge you based on your lack of sight are so incredibly closed minded, it’s appalling.

      That said, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I can’t really think of many books off the top of my head that does have a main character with a physical disability. There is one book, Whisper by Chris Struyk-Bonn that features a character with a cleft palate, and basically she is being ostracized by society. I am, to be honest, worried about reading it, because my son has a cleft lip and palate and a genetic disorder called Van der Woude Syndrome, and I really don’t know if my heart is ready for it. But I am looking at my bookshelves, and you are quite right, it IS lacking.

      And I also agree about the autism piece. I worked with a boy with autism for about 4 years, and I do think you’re right, it would be amazing to see someone with autism portrayed as a functioning member of society.

      These are really AMAZING points you have made, Jackie. I would love to see each of these in fiction more and more. I know there has been a call for diversity, but I don’t believe that stops with ethnicity or sexual orientation, disabilities NEED to factor in. Do you have plans to write one day? You’re quite eloquent, and who better to write about these things than someone who knows the experience first hand?

      And please, never be sorry for discussing stuff! I am so glad that you commented, and I really hope everyone reads it, because I think it is so, so important <3

      • I hope your son does not face the bullying and taunting kids face, but if he does, I am sorry. It’s society’s fault for judging someone for their differences and if your son faces this he should ignore it and find people who appreciate him for who he is.
        I will have to check out the book and let you know how it goes. I think part of the reason people (or at least me) are hesitant to read and write about people with disabilities is because they don’t want to see the subject portrayed negatively, but if no one writes about it, no improvement can be made. I liked how John Green included Isac in The Fault in Our Stars but he wasn’t the main focus.
        I hope that with the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign people will write about people with disabilities–if not as main characters at least as really strong supporting characters.
        Thank you, that’s a great compliment (or is it the one with the E? I get those confused. I have thought about writing, but I have always held back because I don’t consider myself a good enough writer and don’t want to produce crappy content. However, I might consider writing someday if I get better. Thank you so much for the post. 🙂

      • I forgot to mention that There is a book called Blindness which is part of a dystopian series in which the people go blind. I’m hesitant to see how the author deals with the subject. There is also a book called All the Light We Cannot See but I think that’s a memoir.

  2. First about your review, I totally agree that Violet really grows on you and I too liked and loved her a lot more by the end of the book.

    Ah man, such a good discussion topic. I love seeing different mental health issues in books, I think it really can make a difference and help people(especially teens). I would love to see more fantasy/science fiction/dystopian with characters dealing with these kinds of issues though. Just like books with LGBTQ themes, there are more of them now but the majority are contemporary and realistic fiction, I want to see these things in fantasy and even paranormal.

    • I agree! There are a lot of contemporary books coming out, but YES, the other genres are lacking for sure. The concept of dealing with ANY chronic illness, mental OR physical, would make for a lot of great questions in “other world” settings! Wonderful idea!

    • I think it would be great if books were written with people struggling with mental illness in dystopian and fantasy genres. Especially in dystopian because it would be interesting to see how society treats them.

  3. Great post. I agree with you that I was so destroyed after reading this book! I could not start another one for days. I love that books (especially YA ones) are dealing with mental illness so much more. Sometimes they do a good job and sometimes they don’t.

    • You’re quite right, I think it is a fine line, and probably one a lot of authors would be nervous to walk. I mean, if you do it justice, brilliant. If you don’t, though, the ramifications could be bad.

  4. So good!!!! I loved this book!!! How’s your book hangover going cuz mine after this book was horrible? You just keep thinking about it and very song you hear brings them back into your mind. Awesome review!

  5. Kim

    Oh, I am so glad that you liked this one because I am actually listening to it now as an audiobook, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the whole story 🙂
    Kim @ Divergent Gryffindor: BLOG || VLOG

  6. I have read so many amazing things about this book. I am totally and utterly convinced that I need to read it. I agree with you that it’s fantastic that books are dealing with depression and other mental illnesses. People need to be aware of the realities for people who are suffering from these sorts of issues – it’s a very real fight.

  7. I am really glad that I have an ecopy of Don’t Touch waiting for me. I’m more excited for that now because of the perspective of mental illness.

    OK BUT SHANNON. This is an amazing post. I loved All the Bright Places, not because of the characters or the traveling or the story (though they played a huge part of me loving the book), but because how it portrayed mental illness/depression/bipolar illness. It’s not something that can be solved with love (sadly) or being with your favorite people. No, it’s actually a condition that involves chemicals/biology AND IT NEEDS TO BE TREATED, and not just thrown under the rug as being sensitive or just sad.

    I was very depressed in my middle school years mostly because of all the impossible expectations my mom forced on me when it came to academics and extracurriculars. I should’ve gotten help at the time, but there was just no one to turn to. It makes me sad to think about it now, because I don’t like talking about sad things, but I’m really glad YA books are portraying this. I know parents in this day and age are still skeptical, but I’m confident that that’ll change in the future.


    • Oh yay! Yeah, I wasn’t even going to read Don’t Touch initially, because I saw stuff about “art school” and I basically RAN the other way. But I am so, so glad I did, because it ended up being one of my favorite books of the year (and of all time, really).

      You’ve basically hit the nail on the head- this book was great because it wasn’t just “oh, I love someone, I’m good now!”. It was tragically real.

      I am really sorry that you felt that way. A lot of times when you talk about your mom, she sounds SO much like my dad. They’d be besties 😉 It’s hard when the person who you would normally turn to is the person causing a lot of the stress. My dad was the same way- very, VERY high expectations, and absolutely no positive reinforcement. If I got an A it was “Why wasn’t it an A+?” or if I did a best time at a swim meet it was “well, I think you could have had faster turns”. Nothing was right. The irony? Dude has a degree in psychology, and spent 35 YEARS in the field, and was mortified when I said I wanted to talk to someone. He wanted me to leave our town, to drive to another town, so no one would recognize me!

      My point is, if you and I both experienced the same thing, chances are TONS of other people are too. And maybe if characters that I loved and authors I admired had said this stuff, I would have had a bit more courage. At any rate, I would have certainly felt less alone.

      Thanks for sharing your experience too <3

  8. I never knew until probably two years ago that I had an issue with anxiety growing up. I was treated the same way: I was being dramatic or silly or nothing was wrong, I was just getting worked up over nothing. When more books started dealing with and talking about anxiety, I finally realized what the problem was. I can’t begin to explain why I love books and how much they’ve helped me accept the problem and begin to work towards dealing with it. So very thankful for books.

    • Aw, this is WONDERFUL to hear! This is exactly the impact that I am hoping books will come to have!

      I am really sorry that you suffered alone for so long, it is so frustrating to know that you feel differently, but not have anyone take you seriously. I dare say it almost hurts as badly as the feelings themselves, because the people you love won’t help you.

      I am so very glad that you have been able to start dealing with the anxiety. I hope it continues to go well for you <3

  9. I love this discussion so much!!! I credit part of my recovery to several books that I read when I was in my really dark period – I’m sure I would have gotten to a counselor or something, but the books made me feel like I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t over-dramatizing everything.

    And you’ve also convinced me that I need to hurry up and read Don’t Touch this weekend or next week 😉

    I’ve definitely noticed that this year seems to have a lot more books focusing on suicide, which I for one am very pleased with. I’d never even heard of the term “suicidal ideation” before, and it was kind of nice to have a word to my thing. And now there are so many other people who will see that word and realize that it’s NOT something to pass off! I just love it, to be honest. Now I’m waiting for the wave of books about non-OCD related anxiety 😉

    • Thanks 🙂 I agree, books have really helped me too, even as a distraction. I am so glad that you have been able to find comfort in books.

      And I agree- I don’t think people take suicide seriously most of the time. They think the person is just seeking attention, or being dramatic, which is usually NOT the case, and is likely the complete opposite. I feel like a lot of times, even the counselors and doctors that I see minimize my feelings, which makes it about a thousand times harder to get help. When I read Jennifer Niven’s author’s note in the back of this book, I basically was cheering for her, and for her story, because it is THAT important.

      I would LOVE some non-OCD anxiety books! I know that if I ever manage to find a few minutes (ha!) to write a book, my main character (she is in my head, of course, currently) will have some kind of anxiety, because I honestly don’t know what it is like NOT to have it.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, and I hope you continue to do well <3

  10. I have been wanting to read this for MONTHS now. I’ve read favourable after favourable review of it and I NEED IT NOW. I planned on buying it the day of its released, but have been a bit out of the reading world, both on and offline lately. Just getting back into it now. This will be the first book I buy when I’ve gotten ready for my move and for uni.

    I think it’s great that there’s more and more YA books that feature mental illness these days as not only do they help people with mental illnesses, but they educate people who haven’t experienced mental illness before. Sure, schools teach their students about the most common mental illnesses, but they only teach the facts. Reading a book with a character with a mental illness, I feel the unexperienced people actually begin to understand just what it’s like for people with mental illnesses, along with their family and friends. I’ve heard such positive things about Don’t Touch, so it’s definitely on my TBR now. One of the first two YA books I read with mental illnesses were Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, which deals with anorexia, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, which deals with depression. At the time I read both of them, I was recovery from eating issues, to put it lightly, and I found that they both really opened my eyes to what the illness really was and how it is for people on the outside looking in.

    Wonderful review and discussion, Shannon! <33

    • This is SUCH a great point! I agree wholeheartedly. I think that sometimes, it may even be MORE necessary for those who don’t suffer to be educated. VERY great point, I think this is something that should be brought up more often too, because it is incredibly important, especially since the chances are that everyone knows someone who is suffering from a mental illness.

  11. Exactly. there weren’t many books for me growing up either, not like there are now. And I’m so, so glad we have books like this around right now for kids that will be growing up, and identify with it. Though I wish we did have them around when we needed them, and they should’ve, mental health is always going to have a stigma, and although it doesn’t have one as much as it did, it’s always going to be there, but that’s the thing, right? For every person, the stigma’s going to be there until they understand, and even if a book doesn’t help you, or you friend, or someone you know, it can help another. I have literally spent the last hour trying to get this out, and deleted most of it and rethought and ugh, I’m just posting it before I change my mind (again).

    I wouldn’t say I’ve had any that’s helped through a hard time since I didn’t have them then, just wish I had ones like All The Bright Places and hell, even The Last Time We Say Goodbye when I needed it, because a lot of things they felt when their siblings died, I felt. It’s tough to get through, but it’s also nice knowing that you’re not alone, as clichéd as it is. It doesn’t make it hurt any less, but it does feel like closure reading them coming out of the other side.

    Yup, there is a shift, and like you said on goodreads, All the Bright Places ended the way it was to make an impact, to show the reality of dealing with an untreated condition, alone, can do. And I think a lot of people don’t understand is that they think, oh, you have an illness. Have some pills, they’ll make it better. And yeah, okay they might make it better, but you need a support system, not a quick fix. No one’s going to be miraculously healed over night, and it might not go away, ever. It’s about learning to live with it. Like with Finch trying, and for a while with Violet it was better, but it still crept in, and maybe she did make it better, but once he felt like she betrayed him by knowing, that was it. The worst thing is, that it is a real story, and it is for a lot of people. There’s some books out there that paint mental health in a lighter, happier way, where they get through and deal with what they have, but it isn’t every case, it isn’t most cases. YA right now, is showing the darker and honest side to mental health. The times when it’s not okay, the times when you lose the fight. As dark as that gets, I hope there is more of that to come, because it’s raw and honest, and can help you recognise the signs. For yourself, for a friend, a family member. It’s helping fight the stigma.

    • You are so, SO right. And the thing for me is, the stigma just never made sense. I never understood why it was such a bad thing. It isn’t like people are deciding to have a mental illness- “you know what sounds like fun? Depression! I think I will partake in that, please and thank you”. No, it is hell. But it is the same with so many issues that people struggle with, because the bottom line is that society in general can’t seem to help but judge things they don’t understand. It is infuriating.

      But I agree with you completely- I hated what happened, but it is so horrifically real. And YES- the sad truth is that it DOESN’T always work out. Not every book needs to be tragic, but some DO. Especially if that is where the story is headed. I guess for me, the biggest injustice is that no one would criticize a cancer patient for losing the fight, but they do with suicide victims. It breaks my heart. GAH now I am crying, I have to stop!

      But thank you so much for sharing your story and thoughts. I am so incredibly sorry that you’ve experienced that loss, and are still dealing with it. I doubt the pain goes away ever, but I do hope that you have as much peace and healing as possible <3

  12. You know, I think this is one of the most insightful posts I’ve read in a while, and I’m glad you took the time to write it. I personally don’t read many books that deal with these kinds of topics (be they mental health, physical well-being, social issues, etc), but I have certainly noticed (and appreciated) the change in attitude towards those kinds of books. I remember that in-between time where it wasn’t easy to find a book that was both interesting and at my level — as you mentioned, the books I was at a reading level for were generally too grown-up for me to relate to, and I found it to be a struggle. It’s great that such a gap has been filled pretty substantially (hence, the rise of YA in recent years), but it’s also a huge step in the write direction that books that actually deal with teen and non-teen problems are gaining traction. Thanks for sharing!


    • Thank you so much! It is nice that so many readers are now finding their niche! I know diverse books are always needed, but even in the last 5-10 years, the improvement has been AMAZING, over so many topics. Of course, there is always room for more, but at least the shift is finally happening 🙂

  13. Omg, I cannot even BEGIN to describe how much All The Bright Places meant to me. I just…I just want to hug that book. And then bawl because it really unfairly ripped my heart out. *heavy sigh* It makes me sad when mental health is an avoided topic, because when people suffer with it it’s like we all have to ignore them and hush it up. WHY DOES IT NEED TO BE THAT WAY?! It’d be sooo much easier if we could talk about depression without it being condemning. I know a lot of people with depression. I have severe depression. Gah. So books that deal with it always hit home for me and make me cry a lot. I think Jennifer Niven is like a writer of pure talent and perfection. She’s on my auto-buy list forever.

  14. I think I love you. You just said everything that needed to be said. I stopped reading books like these for a while because they were graphic and triggering for me. I was trying to not have them in my head and reading about them didn’t work. Now, I think I’m at a point where I can read them and be okay. Depression is a HORRIBLE thing. I really hated having it but at the same time, I didn’t want to recover..idk why. And then self-harming came which led me to almost hit rock bottom. While there are books out there that do talk about it, I haven’t read one that really describes how one feels. Which led me to start writing my story on my blog (I need to keep writing the other parts) because what better experience than our own, right? Anyway, I really like your take on all of this and yes, it is a very long road but we can do it 🙂 I’m here if you need anything. I can relate.

  15. Eveline

    Since this is an old post, I’m not sure you’ll see this, but the main character in The Call by Peadar O Guilín has a physical disability. It’s a sort of fantasy/dystopia and the first book will be released next month. I read the ARC and I can see the potential. 🙂

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