71 pages 2 hours read

Jennifer Niven

All The Bright Places

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


All the Bright Places is a young adult novel written by Jennifer Niven that deals with the topic of teen suicide. The book was winner of the Goodreads Choice award in 2015, the same year it was first published. 

Niven tells the story from two different voices, those of high school students Theodore Finch (who goes by “Finch”) and Violet Markey. The characters first meet at the top of their high school bell tower, where both are contemplating suicide. Finch, brilliant, ostracized by most of his peers, abused by his father, and suffering from untreated bipolar disorder, has fought suicidal impulses for many years. Violet, formerly a high-functioning cheerleader, honor student, and all-around model teenager, is suffering survivor’s guilt following the auto-related death of her sister, Eleanor, the previous year. Using gentle, therapeutic language, Finch talks Violet off the ledge. In turn, Violet does the same for Finch. However, given Finch’s lifelong difficulties, everyone assumes that Violet climbed the tower to save him, and he does not dispel this assumption.

The two characters form an unlikely partnership and embark upon a tour of sights in their home state of Indiana to fulfill the course requirements of their US geography class. During this time, they become friends and then lovers. Finch helps Violet overcome her trauma and encourages her to reengage with life. When Finch’s mood shifts from mania to depression, Violet attempts to assist him; however, Finch feels that he is beyond help and ultimately kills himself. 

In an autobiographical postscript, Niven reveals that “a boy I knew and loved” (379) killed himself several years prior to the publication of this book. Niven discusses the stigma that surrounds suicide, the impact of the tragedy upon survivors, and the array of treatment and support available to assist individuals suffering with mental illness. She also describes the consequences of untreated mental illness and the inability of many adults to recognize signs of teenage suicidality—including  the impact of bullying. 

The narrative of All the Bright Places particularly imparts a sense of hope and acceptance for survivors who have lost loved ones to suicide—and emphasizes the importance of appropriate support and counseling for these victims as well. Violet, wounded by the twin losses of her sibling and boyfriend, nonetheless looks hopefully to her future at the end of the novel.