Theodore Finch and Violet Markey are a happy couple, but they aren't the kind of lovebirds whose eyes first locked across a room filled with sparkly lights and shimmering music. They didn't meet-cute when she dropped her purse on a crowded street. They didn't even meet in a typical way: on Tinder, in physics class, or at a kegger.
Instead, they find each other on the ledge of a very high building, when they're both contemplating suicide. (Romantic, eh?)
But they get to know each other fast, and their chemistry is more explosive than dynamite. And since the novel is told using both of their voices, we learn a lot about them too. One thing is clear right away: All the Bright Places ain't your mama's love story.
From their fateful meeting on the ledge, you may have guessed that Finch and Violet aren't the kind of characters who get to live happily ever after. Consider yourself warned, folks: Here Be Bummers.
Here's the deal: Finch has undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Violet's sister has recently died in a car crash. And that's on top of normal ol' coming-of-age existential crises—both Finch and Violet are wading through the mire of high school gossip, turbulent home lives, and the boredom and torment of small town blues.
But don't worry. While this is a novel about capital-G Gloomy stuff, it never takes itself too seriously; there are more laughs than there are tricked-out cars at the Indy 500 and more charm than there's Hoosier pride at an IU game. For much of the book, Finch and Violet tour the state of Indiana, which—when you're head-over-heels in love—seems like one giant county fair. Consider this novel the literary equivalent of funnel cake. (Or should we say popcorn? Keep your eyes peeled for the movie version, set to star Elle Fanning as Violet.)
There's also lots of intrigue. The student body of Bartlett High (where our young lovers are seniors) has more secrets than the town of Twin Peaks. We're talking rock singers with suicide journals, All-American hunks who're addicted to the five-fingered discount, and secretly bulimic cheerleaders. Like a steamin' hot pot of Prego, it's in there.
Pull out your diaries and your finest glitter pens, Shmoopers, cause you're going to have some feelings about this one. And, yes, you can borrow our hanky.
On second thought, keep it. You're going to need it in order to make it through the last chapters of this tearjerker.
Let's be real: There's enough sad, solemn stuff in All the Bright Places for roughly 10,000 after-school specials. This is a book that packs in a lot of Serious Issues, including suicide, bullying, abuse, and depression.
In fact, by the end of this YA novel, you'll consider it a minor miracle that no one's been diagnosed with cancer, Hazel and Augustus-style. It's just that tragic.
All of these tear-producing topics matter—they really, really do—but we want to focus on a life lesson that isn't covered in the list of hotlines and resources at the back of the book. Because if this sorrowful, multi-narrator novel is about one thing, IOHO, it's about…possibilities.
Yeah. At its core, All The Bright Places is as tenuously optimistic as its title suggests. (We're not saying that you don't need those tissues and that emergency pint of Phish Food to help you cope with this book. You do.)
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of a tower, they're months away from high school graduation. Traditionally, that's a time when people are thinking about all the insanely exciting choices that life beyond your childhood bedroom has to offer: where to live, what to do, and who to be.
And Finch and Violet aren't standing on that ledge because they want to throw away those possibilities; they're standing there because they just can't see them.
Violet's totally lost interest in life after the sudden death of her sister, but her time with Finch helps her rediscover it. Through his eyes, she's able to uncover potential in the world around her. She discovers wonder and joy in unexpected places: at cheesy tourist attractions (who doesn't love the world's biggest ball of paint?), in her blossoming relationship with Finch, and even in herself, where big ideas and dreams for the future are hidden away like jewels.
Finch has a rougher time of it. One really bad possibility—his depressive episodes, which are always waiting for him around the corner—seems to overshadow all the good ones.
Finch's bipolar disorder is a major medical issue, but there are lots of other problems (big and small) that can make it hard to see life's possibilities. From breakups to the death of a loved one, there are times when it may be hard to envision a future that seems even remotely okay.
When that happens, it's your job to look for all the bright places—hey, see what we did there?—even when they seem far away. And if you can't find 'em yourself, the trick is remembering that something (like a passion project), somewhere (like Hoosier Hill), or someone (like a significant other, a buddy, or a counselor) can help you peel back the gray curtains that can hide the shining possibilities that lie ahead.
The Author's Official Website
Jennifer Niven has a website, and it's super well-designed.
The Roller Coaster is Real
An interview that includes a photo of the (very real) roller coaster where Finch and Violet "wandered."
Violet Markey's fictional magazine has a real-life counterpart, founded by author Jennifer Niven.
Eleanor and Violet dot com
Violet Markey's old fictional magazine has a real-life counterpart, too. We're assuming it's a creative marketing stunt for the book.
The Big Movie
Starring Elle Fanning as Violet.
The NYT's Review
This guy (mostly) likes it.
The Guardian's Review
FYI, this one's pretty positive.
The One Critic on Earth Who Hated the Book
An Interview With the Author
The author talks about her life, the book, and how the two intersect.
Join Niven as she leaves her favorite books around the city of London.
Why not check out an excerpt?
Meet the Author
In all her glory.
That's it, all right.