All the Not-So-Bright Places


Madison Metheny, Reporter


All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, published in January of 2015, is a very popular book (chosen by our very own English Festival!) that highlights mental illnesses and the effect they have on individuals and the people in their lives.

First thing’s first: I rated it a 4/5.

For me, this book was a whirlwind of emotions from start to finish. Niven creates characters you can really root for–a moody, quirky outcast named Finch, and Violet, a broken girl who tries to pretend she’s okay in the hopes that one day she will be. Niven’s writing flows smoothly, and the alternating points-of-view give the book an extra element of humor that I feel really propels the book along.

Despite its name and occasional humor, however, I will warn you (because let me tell you, English Festival members will not warn you–I know that from personal experience) this is not a bright book. You will laugh, maybe often, but keep in mind it is a book about mental illnesses, and those are never fun.


Now let’s talk about why I gave the ratings I did: I thought the book was brilliant all the way until the end, and then it made less sense.

The way Niven threads Violet and Finch’s struggles together was so beautifully done that it almost seemed like they were made to fix each other.

But, as all of us who read the book know, that’s not what happened. I know–what?! It seemed a little inconsistent to me. Violet had made Finch so happy that he’d actually admitted that he no longer thought of suicide as an option. I mean, when Finch and Violet visited the body of water that almost seemed like an abyss, he had almost drowned. And what did he do? He found the strength to swim back up because he couldn’t do it to Violet. It was like that almost all the way through until he saw Embryo, his counselor, who told him he had Bipolar disorder.

Don’t get me wrong; obviously, being told you have a mental illness is very serious and disheartening, to say the least, even without his bouts of depression. But the way he spiraled at the end because of this realization alone doesn’t sit right with me, and I’ll tell you why.

First, let’s skip to when Kate shows up at Violet’s house with email prints. Kate mentions to Violet in a panic that he checks in with his family every Saturday. He tells them he’s fine and asks about their day. She then shows Violet the prints of Finch’s email which seems like more of a goodbye than an encouragement. It’s clear to the readers, then, that he’s at least thinking of committing suicide.

Violet finds out after talking to all the people close to Finch that he’s sent an email to everyone he loves. Including Violet (although, I’m not talking about the four suicide notes to be left, but the way Violet’s was structured doesn’t make much sense to me. If Finch really couldn’t find anything else to live for in all of his previous years of depression, including his family, and throughout the whole first half of the book the only thing that changed was Violet (remember he had said in one of his journal entries that because of Violet he had no more suicidal thoughts?), why would his family be the only people he contacted in all of the weeks he went missing? There were multiple moments where Finch mentioned that he had to get back to Violet, that he couldn’t stand more than half a day without seeing Violet. So why did he go missing from her for so long without a single explanation or phone call other than those cryptic messages? Maybe he felt guilty for putting her through his mood swings. But why would he cause her more pain because of it? Why would he leave love notes for her to find after his death if he was just going to kill himself in the same place he vowed not to kill himself weeks ago?

It just doesn’t add up. Niven wrote about how happy Finch was towards the end and how many people he had to live for and then it seemed like she just discarded the plot around the last 50 pages.

Even if Finch’s decision did make sense to me (I recognize that he was bipolar, and his “black moods” were made to emphasize the severity and unpredictability of his depression, but I’m still miffed about it), I would shift the blame to Violet. I understand she didn’t want to get hurt again, but honestly, Finch sent her and told her about all these clues that was reminiscent of suicide and where he was going to do it, and she still didn’t get it. I can’t help but feel that if she had caught on sooner like I did, she would have stopped him from killing himself.

When I think about the situation Finch put Violet in when he decided to kill himself (she had already lost her sister and had just started to drive again when that happens), I can’t help but think of a quote I heard on the TV show Sherlock: “Taking your own life. Interesting expression — taking it from who? Once it’s over, it’s not you who’ll miss it. Your own death is something that happens to everybody else. Your life is not your own. Keep your hands off it.”

While it might seem a little harsh, it’s moments like these where I can’t help but agree. Obviously, suicide is never the answer, even if I do recognize it seems like the only way out for some people. But reading about Violet and Finch’s family and how it affected them, it makes me realize that maybe that’s the point: maybe Niven wrote about the aftermath of Finch’s death for so many pages, as opposed to simply ending the book there, because she wanted to showcase the argument that maybe your life really isn’t your own. Although it is meant to bring awareness to mental illnesses, I can’t entirely discredit the possibility of this slightly different premise.


I really loved this book. As frustrated as I am with the ending, I still respect the powerful emotions it evoked from me. I cried for three days. Some of tears were shed during school, which is hard to make me do. Congratulations, Niven. I am devastated.

Her writing was brilliant and I appreciate the purpose this book was trying to accomplish, and it’s for that reason that, although I did give it a 4 out of 5 stars, it remains one of my favorite books.