YA Fiction Week, Part Deux: All the Bright Places

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The week I posted about The Thing About Jellyfish was meant to be a “Young Adult Fiction Week,” but life got in the way and I was unable to bring you this, my second young adult fiction review, until March, which technically stretches YA Fiction Week into “YA Fiction Two Months.” Oops. Moving, on, up for review this evening is Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places.

I spotted Niven’s book on Barnes & Noble’s “What Teens Are Reading Now” shelf; I must admit I felt a bit like Amy Poehler’s ‘cool mom’ from Mean Girls as I attempted to slip it into my cart, hoping that no adults would see, and subsequently, judge me for it. I’m happy to report that I emerged from the bookstore with my ego intact. Moving on…let’s delve into the plot, shall we?

The book takes place in Bartlett, Indiana, and begins with two high school seniors, one a pretty and popular girl and the other a misfit, who meet on the ledge of their school bell-tower, both contemplating ending their lives. The freak, Theo, convinces the pretty girl, Violet, to come down, and lets the entire school believe that the only reason she was up there was to save him. Aware that she now owes Theo a favor, when he asks to partner with her on a semester-long final project called “Wander Indiana,” which involves traveling around the site to find the most unique tourist destinations, she feels compelled to say yes. What begins as a shaky alliance predictably evolves into a whirlwind romance that changes the lives of both Theo and Violet in ways they never would have imagined.

The book, while cliché, is compulsively readable. The adventures that Theo and Violet embark on, and the way Niven writes about them, are adorable in a way that adult books simply cannot manage. And, most importantly, Niven delves unafraid into the topic of mental health: she discusses grief, loss, and loneliness, and ably portrays depression and anxiety in a broad enough manner that a young teenager grappling with nebulous, undiagnosed symptoms could easily relate to either of the protagonists and seek help as a result. In my day, the underlying theme of Young Adult Books (The Clique, Gossip Girl) was “be rich, be hot, wear designer clothes,” so it’s reassuring to see how far we’ve come.

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