A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Quotes from poets and authors including Virginia Woolf, Dr. Seuss, Cesare Pavese, and Robert Lowell. Mention of the Bronte sisters. Jovian-Plutonian gravitational-effect hoax explained. Statistics and facts about several methods of suicide. Author's note relates personal experience with a friend who committed suicide and provides many links to sites about suicide prevention, mental illness, surviving another's suicide, bullying, and abuse. Some geography of Indiana, including places of interest and important figures such as writer James Whitcomb Riley.
Mental illness should be thought of like physical illness, but people are more sympathetic if they can see what's hurting you. What's important is not what you take but what you leave behind. Don't overlook the small things while you're waiting for something big to happen.
Positive Role Models
Finch has had behavioral problems in the past with fighting, smashing things, and setting off fireworks at school; in the present, he refuses to fight back when provoked or beaten. He thinks about suicide a lot. He manages to help Violet return to normal life after grieving by demonstrating how to make the most of your time on earth. He doesn't pressure Violet to have sex even after they've been making out. Violet at first is coccooned in her grief and wants only to put more time between herself and past tragic events, eventually learning to live in the moment. She does the right thing by seeking help when she learns a friend may be suicidal and models tremendous resilience and optimism after enduring multiple tragedies.
Violence & Scariness
Bullying includes name-calling, knocking books out of arms, aggressively bumping, and slamming into a locker. A few fights, one in which a father beats his son. Characters are punched in the eyes and nose; smashed in the mouth, nose, and ribs; held underwater; slammed against a wall; and strangled. Pain and injuries briefly mentioned. Blood's mentioned a couple of times but not described.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Older teens talk about sex, mostly along strict gender lines that accept the double standard as the norm. Boys mention "getting laid" and "scoring," saying, "Did you hit that yet?" and similar things. Sexual activity is associated with sluttiness in girls. Main characters have mature, matter-of-fact attitudes about sex. A dozen or so kisses are not described in detail. A few make-out sessions mention kissing with tongue, hands under shirts, skin-to-skin contact, and needing a lot of willpower not to go all the way. Older teens have sex a few times, but it's not described. No contraception or protection against STDs is mentioned, nor are there any consequences to sex.
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Frequent use of profanity: "s--t" and variations, occasionally "f--k," "a--shole," "piss," "dumbass," "bulls--t," "SOB" and variations, "goddamn," "hell," "bitch" and variations, "faggot," "prick," "-ass" as a suffix, "damn," "slut," and "whore." A parent's T-shirt says, "Suck it." A car is nicknamed "Little Bastard."
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Products & Purchases
Facebook, CW, Google, Target, Saturn, Old Navy, American Eagle, Abercrombie, Macaroni Grill, NoDoz, Red Bull, Chevy Impala, Airstream, Chick-fil-A, American Spirit, Chuck Taylor, Keds.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A few mentions of high school kids drinking beer at parties. A 19-year-old talks about being drunk. A car interior smells of smoke and pot. A main character doesn't like drugs but keeps sleeping pills on hand. A teen takes half a bottle of sleeping pills. Teens smoke cigarettes, including in a scene during PE with no consequences.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that All the Bright Places is the young-adult debut of the author of the Velva Jean series, and suicide is the central theme. The message is ultimately hopeful, but the path to finding hope is heartbreaking, and readers should keep a hankie close by. High school seniors wrestle with complex issues, mostly stemming from protagonist Finch's constant thinking about suicide, including the death of a loved one; mental illness; committing suicide and losing someone to it; abuse; and adult attitudes toward drinking, sex, and smoking. Lots of strong language includes frequent use of "a--hole" and "s--t," and a wide variety of other strong language is used once or twice each. Older teens and young adults smoke. Kissing is mentioned a dozen times or so, and making out with hands under shirts is briefly described once or twice. Seventeen-year-olds have sex a couple of times, but it's not described. Some details about different methods of suicide are explored, mostly by weighing the pros and cons of each. The author's note provides helpful websites about suicide, mental illness, bullying, and more.
Is It Any Good?
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES is a heartbreakingly vivid story that ultimately conveys hope while remaining true to the characters. Author Jennifer Niven's believable, relatable voices alternate between high school seniors Finch and Violet, but it's Finch's voice that really drives the novel. Engrossing and compelling, like watching a train wreck, Finch's authenticity and vulnerability keep the pages turning and the reader rooting for him to make his way through this world. Violet's voice is equally realistic and believable, and teens will really relate to her struggles to emerge from grief even if they haven't experienced grief themselves.
Niven raises a lot of questions about life, death, suicide, mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, and how we stigmatize those who suffer from pain we can't see. She doesn't spoon-feed any answers, but these issues are things we all think about from time to time, and this novel provides a visceral, beautiful way to start a crucial discussion.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.