Niven, Jennifer All the Bright Places, 383 pgs. Alfred A. Knopf (Random), 2015. $17.99. Language: R (40+ swears, 4 “f”); Mature Content: PG-13 (beer, sex, no drugs); Violence: PG-13 (physical bullying by student and parent).
Violet (Markey) and (Theodore) Finch meet on top of the school bell tower, teetering near the edge, unaware that the other is there. Once fellow high school students notice them up there, Finch quietly talks Violet away from the edge and proclaims that she saved him. She becomes a hero and he just becomes more of a weirdo to the rest of the school. Violet, a former cheerleader and popular girl, suffers survivor’s guilt for the car crash that killed her sister and has withdrawn from life, using “I’m not ready” as avoidance. Finch, living with his detached single mother and visiting his abusive father, has mental issues that overwhelm him at times. Assigned a joint project exploring the wonders of Indiana, Finch helps Violet face her fears through his unique perspectives. In Violet, Finch believes that he has found the first person who understands him.
Violet and Finch are such likeable characters that the students will be drawn to them. The engaging writing moves the story along quickly and the chapter headings indicate the alternating voices of Finch and Violet. Not everyone in the school nor the parents are perfect, adding to the realism. This book is perfect for talking about survivor guilt, abuse and bullying. The final page has resources for these topics as well as suicide prevention and mental illness in teens.
HS – ESSENTIAL.