By Jennifer Niven
The fact is, I was sick, but not in an easily explained flu kind of way. It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other recognizable disease just to make it simple for me and also for them.
This review does NOT contain spoilers about All the Bright Places, but it does contain spoilers about Jane Eyre. So if you haven’t read that one yet, run away and only come back when you’ve read it. It’ll be worth your time anyway.
In some ways, this book is similar to Jane Eyre. For anyone else who has read both books, that’s probably surprising, because it seems like a modern day teenage love story is about the furthest thing from Jane Eyre, but hear me out. The two main protagonists come from different worlds wherein one is more privileged than the other. Early on the man professes his love but continues to remain secretive and acts a bit disconcerting at times. But the biggest similarity is the way the story moves: slowly and then all at once (to quote John Green).
For a significant portion of the book, 296 pages to be exact, not much happens. There are two kids, Violet and Finch. They’re both dealing with big, difficult issues in their lives–Violet’s older sister was killed in a car accident and Finch is most likely living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. They meet on top of a tower where they are both considering jumping to their death, but instead they fall in love. It’s cute and sweet and insightful, but there isn’t much else driving the story forward. And then on page 297 the storm hits. That page is comparable to the moment in Jane Eyre when she decides to leave Mr. Rochester and you think that everything is falling to pieces and totally pointless. Similar to my experience with Jane Eyre, if you had asked me in the middle of this book what I thought, I would have smiled politely and said I liked it. But by the end of the book, I would almost say that I loved it.
Niven does a terrific job of reeling you in with lovable characters and cute adventures, and then whomping you in the stomach with the reality of life. This book touches on topics like mental health, depression, bipolar disorder, labels, stigmas, and teens contemplating suicide. These are all very important topics that need to be discussed. And while it is a terrible thing to ignore these issues, it is also just as terrible to romanticize them. Niven walks a fine line between writing a compelling story about depression and romanticizing the disease. I think she successfully pulls it off, but only if readers are willing to listen to what she is saying.
All the Bright Places is an incredibly insightful glimpse into the mind of someone with bipolar disorder. It’s beautifully written, and emotionally eye-opening. My only fear is that readers will come for the romance and ignore the serious issues Niven brings up. This book could stimulate some really great discussions on mental health and the stigmas our society currently has about it, but these discussions won’t happen if readers only want to talk about love and tragedy.