Not a typical love story

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Penguin; Pb £7.99), reviewed by Dr Stacey A. Bedwell.

All the Bright Places is a love story, but not a typical love story with a happy ending. The story doesn’t even really give complete closure. These things said, it’s still a great love story and a unique portrayal of grief, turmoil and suicide. Unlike many stories of suicide or depression, All the Bright Places isn’t highly dramatic, which in my opinion makes the content relatable to a wide audience, and perhaps more realistic. The issue of suicide, particularly amongst teenagers and young people, is a hot topic in the media right now. With current interest, it’s no surprise that a novel focused on teenage suicide is featured on multiple top novel lists.

All the Bright Places follows the story of two high school students. Violet recently lost her sister in a car crash that she was also involved in, and Finch has struggled with depression for years. Throughout the chapters we see the two main characters grow closer and more dependent on one another.

All the Bright Places uses a very popular format in young adult literature, that of a diary, jumping between diary entries/narrative thoughts of each main character. I felt that this approach really helped in understanding the experiences of both characters from two different perspectives, something that can easily be missed from a single narrative novel.

Many stories of depression or suicide have a happy ending. The characters in All the Bright Places don’t live happily ever after, as you might expect them to at the beginning of the story. The problems and obstacles these two teens experience are not all solved by the end and the final chapter could be distressing to some. With this being said, I did still feel like I got a sense of closure, and most importantly I felt like this was the type of ending that could be representative of a real-life situation. From the perspective of a psychologist, I think it’s important to not sugar-coat issues such as those covered by Jennifer Niven in All the Bright Places, and to give a realistic conclusion to events, reflecting events that do happen in real-life.

Beside the two main characters, there was one person in the book that really stood out to me: the counsellor. The school counsellor was portrayed at rather inefficient at helping Finch to overcome his issues and perhaps slow to act upon concerns that he had. My initial thoughts on this character’s portrayal were that it painted a negative picture of therapists and psychologists. However, after giving it some thought, it became apparent to me that the actions of this character may help to show the general readership how vital it is for not only professionals, but all people in an individual’s life to pay close attention and to act on any concerns they may have for their safety, perhaps ultimately saving a life. I don’t know if it was the intention of the author, but I think she did an excellent job at subtly communicating this.

- Reviewed by Dr Stacey A. Bedwell,  Lecturer in Psychology, Birmingham City University

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