#BookTok Review: ‘All the Bright Places’ sheds light on teenage mental struggles

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Clara Martinez

“All the Bright Places,” the third book included on the #BookTok Bookshelf, was written by Jennifer Niven in 2015. Exploring a theme of death, the novel commences with protagonists Violet and Finch standing on the ledge of a high school bell tower, unsure of why the other has the same desire to end their life.

Clara Martinez, News Editor: Print

One book often appears in TikTok videos captioning themes of sorrow – “books that will break your heart” or “standalones that made me sob until dawn” chief among them. The infamous novel “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven unearths the pitfalls of high school.

Theodore Finch, a high school senior, is obsessed with death. Whether it be famous suicides or his own methods, Finch constantly shifts between personalities to avoid facing himself. Despite carefully calculated plans to escape his reality as an outcast both at school and at home, Finch always finds one reason or another to stay alive. 

Violet Markey, on the other hand, is only concerned with the future. While Finch is counting down the days until his death, Violet counts down the time until she can truly start living and move away from the ghost of her sister. Months away from leaving her small Indiana town amid the whispers of Eleanor’s recent death, her primary goal is to stay alive long enough to escape. 

The pair meet standing on the ledge of their high school’s belltower, upon which they strike up a conversation about the intentions that would have ended their lives that day. Although onlookers later report in the school newspaper that Violet saved Finch’s life, nobody can discern why Violet was standing on the ledge in the first place. Even Violet and Finch have yet to understand which of them saved the other that day.

When they later become partners in a U.S. geography class assignment to uncover the hidden gems within Indiana, Violet begins to realize Finch is not the drug dealer “freak” she assumed he was. Finch’s connection with Violet only grows, to the extent that he adds her to his list of reasons to remain alive.

This novel does not attempt to romanticize the high school experience, a portrayal much appreciated on account of its authenticity. Often observed in that of a John Hughes film, the human complexities of high schoolers tend to be swept under the rug in the wake of clichés such as gossip and the prom. 

Moreover, the imagery involved in describing first-person accounts of various mental illnesses truly deserves applause. The portrayals of mental illness were remarkably well crafted; it felt as if I could truly relate to the struggles of Violet and Finch. Niven certainly did not shy away from the complexity of creating morally grey characters, which only added to the riveting pace of the novel.

The sheer trauma between the tear-stained pages was so potent I was inundated by the characters’ feelings. ”

Despite my recognition of the genius of this book, reading it felt akin to being suffocated with my own bare hands. The sheer trauma between the tear-stained pages was so potent I was inundated by the characters’ feelings. 

This book will sit on my shelf endlessly waiting for the next time I dare pick it up. From my perspective as a high school student, it is almost too draining to wade through the cover-to-cover angst. Thus, this book is not one to pick up on an afternoon stroll along your local high street. This is a novel to dive into and claw your way out of in moments of solitude. 

“All the Bright Places” is the perfect choice for readers fresh from reading John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” Although there are many similarities between the two young adult novels, such as the protagonists bonding over classic British writers – in this case, Virginia Woolf – “All the Bright Places” unearthed a new layer of complexity with the characters’ bond over mental trauma rather than a physical illness. Violet and Finch feel obligated to look out for each other, unsure of when the other person will crack under the pressure of their own mind.

From this week’s review, I have learned an important lesson: do not underestimate the TikTok video captions of fellow readers. Seeing this book on a list of “top five novels that will snap your soul in half” is no joke. When BookTokers says this novel will leave you blubbering into your pillow at 3 a.m., they are not kidding.

Read more #BookTok reviews here:

Clara Martinez