All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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all the bright placesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Knopf, 2015.

High school seniors Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet at the top of a bell tower – they are both considering jumping – but helping each other down is the start of an intense relationship. Working together on a U. S. Geography project, they “wander” Indiana, finding meaning and beauty in obscure places. But Finch suffers from (unnamed till late in the book) bipolar disorder and, though he is in an “awake” phase, he knows that “asleep” is coming, and Violet is still grieving over the death of her sister. Finch helps Violet to mend, but can she help him?

Initially, it seems like a check the box YA romance: Eleanor and Park mismatched couple? Check. Fault in Our Stars sick teens? Check. Smarty pants, snarky voices, alternating chapter narrators and classic literary references? Why, yes, yes and yes – hello, Virginia Woolf.

But somewhere along the way I was drawn in by the appealing leads, who became real people that I cared about. Niven takes her time building Finch and Violet, and their relationship. Violet is not really interested to start with, and it takes some time for Finch’s peculiar charms to work their magic on her and the reader. And perhaps because of her personal experience, mentioned in the author’s note at the end, these characters gain an authenticity and take off from the page.

This one is going to fly out of my library – and rightly so. And I really appreciate the author including a list of resources for teens suffering from mental illness, grieving, bullying, abuse, or contemplating suicide.

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