All the Bright Places

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I am in love with this style of novel: writing in different voices. It gives the author the opportunity to tell the same story from various perspectives, showing how two or more people view the same incident so differently.  There are, after all, three sides to every story. At least.

Written from alternating perspectives, All the Bright Places features 17 year old high school seniors Theodore Finch and Violet Markey.  They meet on the ledge of the school bell tower, separately drawn by the thought of jumping, but each not really wanting to take the final leap.  Theo talks Violet off the ledge, but gives her the credit for saving him.

Violet is dealing with the sudden death of her older sister in a car accident that Violet survived.  Her feelings of grief and guilt are familiar as you read, as are her relationships with the people around her.  She was a regular teen before Eleanor’s death, dating the right boy, dreaming of college, trying to fit in. She shoves all that aside and just tries to make it through each day, counting down to graduation when she can escape the past.  She is unremarkable. Until Theo finds her.

Theo deals with darkness in his head.  He wants to live, and spends his time looking for any reason to continue.   He tries on different personae, one day a character from the ’80s in dress and action, one day a rough London thug, trying to figure out who he is and how he fits in.  A talented musician, he copes with a difficult homelife, is an outcast at school, carries the nickname “Freak.”  Through it all, he is an uplifting and hopeful character, even while he lives in shadows and fog.  Violet gives him a reason to fight through it.

Together, Finch and Violet take on a geography project for school (Theo embarrasses Violet into partnering with him), researching their home state of Indiana. They tour the state, looking for interesting places and people. Looking for a reason to stay.  For every place they visit, the two must leave something of themselves behind.  They quote Virginia Woolf to each other, and fall in love; that first, intense, teenage love.

The story is funny and heartbreaking at the same time.  It is real.  Jennifer Niven’s voice through her characters is authentic; these are real teens living real lives and trying to deal with everything that is thrown at them.  Theo radiates goodness, even under his cloak of rebellion.  Violet finds, and likes, herself.  Her strength is a surprise to her.

There are mature themes in this book.  The characters deal with death and sex and the aftermath of suicide.  There is the hint of abuse, emotional and physical.  Niven does not use superfluous words, and every phrase is authentic.

All the Bright Places is published by Alfred A. Knopf.

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