All the Bright Places

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
All the Bright Places Book Poster Image
Compelling teen romance tackles suicide, finds hope.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 40 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

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.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex

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.

Language

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." 

Consumerism

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 2 and 13 year old Written bykbumgarner August 20, 2015

Best book!

This is definately not a Disney storybook, it does bring up real-life topics that you should not be afraid to discuss. It brings you into the life of a person,... Continue reading
Parent Written byahuttoLMS April 22, 2016

Intense

This book really punched me in the gut. I was not expecting such a touching portrayal of a teen who is battling mental illness and those who try to love him.... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLuna Lovegoode August 3, 2015

All the Bright Places!

This book was very impressive considering how it took on such a difficult theme. Suicide is obviously a very serious topic, and teens are capable of reading bo... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byclickgoesthecamera June 7, 2015

Not handled well; bad influence.

This book could be enjoyable to read. It could. It had the potential to be. But it wasn't. Now, I don't really count a book out because of drinking o... Continue reading

What's the story?

Violet and Finch meet six stories up, on the ledge of their school's bell tower. They couldn't be more different: She's popular, with a bright future at a top college; he's an outsider labeled a "freak." When they partner up on a geography project to explore their home state of Indiana, they begin to learn what drove each of them up and out onto that ledge and soon fall in love. Finch starts to bring Violet out of the grief she's been wrapped in for the past year, and with Violet Finch can truly be himself. Can Finch and Violet help each other to stay in this "messed-up world"?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about suicide and mental illness. Where can you turn for help? What can you do if you think someone you know is serious about it?

  • Finch wishes mental illness was seen as the same as a physical illness. Do you think it can be? Why is it such a stigma in our society?

  • Why do you think the author switches point of view between Finch and Violet? Did both narrators seem realistic to you? Did you like one better than the other? Why?

Book details

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