Saturday, 16 January 2016

Review: All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

When it came to choosing which books to download to my Kindle in preparation for two months away, All the Bright Places was one of the first I noted down. In the few months leading up to the trip I'd seen so many recommendations and posts/ videos talking about how amazing the book was, so my expectations were high. Too high. 

All the Bright Places is a book about two teenagers, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, who meet in the first few pages at the top of their school's bell tower where they are both contemplating jumping. The rest of the novel follows their consequent journeys and development, both individually and through their interaction with one another.

It's a beautiful and tragic story that does well to try to discuss various mental health issues and tackle existing stigma, there's no doubt about that, but there is just something missing from the book, some kind of connection that doesn't quite meet. 

I think the reason I wasn't fully immersed in the book was because I didn't feel a connection with the characters, and that is slightly problematic in a book about mental health, because if you don't feel connected to your characters you certainly can't get any sense of how they are feeling. It definitely seems as though Niven wants you to connect with her characters, as she presents them as very charismatic and complex individuals. I spent the entirety of the book willing Theo and Violet into my head, but sadly they remained stuck, flattened within the pages. As a result of this, their deep sadness and many of their ongoing struggles just didn't translate. I felt very distant from Theo and Violet, which is odd for alternating first person chapters. 

Whilst a lot of attention is given to the small details of the plot, any descriptions of the characters' own thoughts felt very much on the surface, as did the slightly clich├ęd American high school backdrop. 

Having said that, it is a beautiful story and I was somewhat affected by the ending. Not in a I-need-to-cry-my-eyes-out way, but it was one of those novels that leaves you feeling sluggish and heavy even once you've shut the book and pushed it aside. 

So I'm left wondering whether I would recommend the book or not. It is very John Green; it reminded me of Paper Towns, only deeper, but with less impressionable characters. And there are some really stunning ideas and lines within the pages, if you have the patience to wade through the flat character work to find these gems. 

All the Bright Places had the potential to be a deeply moving book, it's just a shame that the protagonists don't make the impression that they ought to.

Have you read All the Bright Places? What did you think?


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