All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places By Jennifer Niven
Alfred Knopf, 2015 378 pages

On the surface, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey have nothing in common. Finch is the school “freak,” the boy known for his outrageous stunts and delinquent behavior. Violet, who is part of the popular crowd, eats lunch at the “right” table and dates the star player on the baseball team.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Many of his waking hours are spent imagining his death and carefully considering the many different ways people die. So far, he has always found a reason to keep living by the end of the day, but tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Finch has never been formally evaluated by a mental health professional because his parents believe that his behavior is a choice, but he is probably bipolar. At his lowest points, he is nearly catatonic. When he is up, or, as he says, “awake,” he is full of frantic energy. He feels a need to do as much as possible before he tumbles into darkness again.

Violet keeps her eyes locked on the horizon in an effort to numb the pain of sister’s death. She survives each day by counting down the days until graduation, when she will shake the dust of her small Indiana town from her heels without looking back.

Finch and Violet meet at the top of the campus bell tower on an icy winter afternoon.

They both have reasons for their presence on the ledge, and by the time they come down, neither is sure who saved whom. Embarrassed by the whole incident, Violet tries to put as much space as possible between herself and Finch. When Finch claims Violet as his partner for their “Wander Indiana” geography project, Violet reluctantly agrees.

For their project, Violet and Finch must visit several “wonders” of Indiana and report on their visits. Finch takes the project to heart, insisting that they seek out the extraordinary in their exceedingly ordinary home state.

As their work on the project progresses, an unlikely friendship forms. Finch opens the world up again for Violet, quelling her fears and encouraging her to live each day to the fullest. Violet motivates Finch to avoid the downward spiral he feels coming. Desperate to remain awake this time, he puts up a good fight.

Author Jennifer Niven has penned a beautifully written, absolutely heart-wrenching story of love, friendship and wandering. All the Bright Places is by turns funny, infuriating and so very sad.

Through Finch, Niven gives us a glimpse into the heart, soul and mind of mental illness. Finch is charming, bold, laugh-out-loud funny, and tragic. Through Violet, whose still waters run very deep, Niven explores the ramifications of loving someone like Finch, and, ultimately, of letting him go.

Though it contains much sadness, All the Bright Places is not a dark book. To the contrary, it is a story of living life to the fullest every single day.

Heather Holley-Hall is Alamance County Public Libraries’ Associate Director of Operations. She may be reached at 336-570-6730 or hhhall@alamancelibraries.org.