“All the Bright Places” discusses dark themes, emotions

Marissa Payne, Coppyeditor

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“You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing,” says Dr. Seuss in his book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Featured in one of the scenes of Jennifer Niven’s young adult fiction debut “All the Bright Places,” the quote reflects the novel’s overall optimistic tone and message of hope about finding the light, despite all the darkness of one’s circumstances or past experiences.

The novel opens with 12th grader Theodore Finch standing on the ledge of his high school’s bell tower, contemplating whether or not it’s his time to die, the time for his so-called “built-in ending.” Before he can jump, he sees his classmate, Violet Markey, standing on the other side of the same bell tower, and he knows today isn’t the day, considering it is his responsibility to convince Violet to stay alive. Drained of her passion for writing and counting down the days ‘til graduation, it is not until Violet meets Theodore that she is able to live again and fully take in each day.

While the state of Theodore’s mental health is made obvious from the novel’s opening scene (though not explicitly discussed until closer to the end), Violet’s motives are less clear. She’s the it-girl,

Bartlett High’s queen bee — why could she possibly be considering suicide? Niven challenges the notion of popular people being perfect and free of any hardship in their lives, with Violet’s struggle to overcome the pain of her sister’s death influencing her behavior.

In their U.S. Geography class, Violet and Theodore disregard gossip surrounding the bell tower incident and work together on a “wander Indiana” project that lasts for the duration of the novel. They must explore their state, learn to appreciate its history and understand that there is beauty in everything, even the dullest of places. Although Violet’ is initially hesitant to spend time with Theodore, she strengthens her relationship with Theodore over the course of this journey.

Despite Theodore’s efforts to prevent his mental illness from dictating his life and his relationships, it becomes evident that his happiness with Violet is not enough to keep him alive, and the ending is rather predictable.

Being a book about suicide and mental illness, it’s important that the characters don’t become their illnesses. This fear of being labeled is what prevents Theodore from receiving help, and while healthy treatment is discussed in the novel, Niven doesn’t provide a message of hope in terms of life beyond one’s mental illness. Instead, Theodore becomes an idealistic, romanticized “Manic Pixie Dream Boy,” leaving notes all over Indiana for Violet to find and keep their geography project alive past his death. Searching for these messages allows Violet to cope, but at the same time, it doesn’t accurately display Theodore’s struggle to deal with the pain of living.

Although some readers may not like the way the novel’s heavier topics are dealt with, “All the Bright Places” can still be an enjoyable read for those who like reading young adult fiction. The characters are strikingly similar to John Green’s too-intelligent, overly witty teenage protagonists, and the sometimes poetic descriptions are reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s writing style. A film adaptation is in the works, so hopefully the book and movie can remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, and encourage people to seek help if they are dealing with similar problems.

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“All the Bright Places” discusses dark themes, emotions