Comparing a new young adult author to superstar John Green is risky business. Fans of Green’s work are bound to bring a certain set of expectations to their next read—expectations that All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven meets and even exceeds.
Theodore Finch is the school freak. He can rattle off statistics about suicide as easily as literary quotations, and he’s never bothered joining Facebook because he doesn’t have any friends. His fellow senior Violet Markey is a frustrated writer struggling to redefine her identity and reframe her future plans after the car accident that killed her older sister. When the two teens find themselves working together on a geography project, they soon discover that there’s much more to be learned on their “wanderings” than mere sightseeing. As Violet draws Finch out his shell and Finch teaches Violet to make peace with the past, their relationship seems headed toward long-term happiness. But some problems turn out to be too deeply entrenched to be solved.
Told in alternating perspectives, this heart-wrenching, deeply personal novel includes lots of motifs familiar to Green fans, like road trips, physics metaphors and even references to unusual Indiana landmarks. Niven expertly crafts both of her narrative voices to reflect her characters’ changing moods and perspectives, and she’s at her strongest exactly when her characters are at their most conflicted. In the end, as the two travelers learn, life isn’t as much about what you take as what you leave behind.
Jill Ratzan teaches research rudiments in central New Jersey. She learned most of what she knows about YA lit from her terrific grad students.