A To Z Book Review: All The Bright Places

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The great A to Z book challenge of 2023 is underway, and I began with a solid gut-punch.

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven is the story of Violet Markey, a high school senior who’s still reeling after the death of a beloved older sister, and Theodore Finch, a colorful character who seems to be constantly re-inventing himself. Finch is known especially for doing all manner of outrageous things, not the least of which is standing at the top of the high school’s bell tower and appearing as though he’s going to jump – a regular occurrence.

The book begins at Violet and Finch’s first face-to-face encounter, which is far from the standard YA meet-cute. Violet ascends the bell tower in a state of grief only to find that Finch got there first. He ends up talking her down, and from there an unlikely – and wonderfully quirky – friendship blooms, eventually leading to a full-blown relationship.

Of course, her parents and her popular friends don’t want her dating “Finch the Freak” (and not without some valid reasons) but our star-crossed lovers both recognize how much better they are together and how much healing they’ve experienced because of each other’s influence.

From there, we don’t settle into a warm, fuzzy YA love story, despite Finch adorably referring to Violet Marky as “UltraViolet ReMarkey-able” and Violet’s willingness to open the closed parts of herself to the charismatic tornado that is Finch.

Unfortunately, the tornado is only the edge of the chaotic storm that is Finn’s inner monologue. The book begins as a study of navigating Violet’s grief and loss, and then devolves into a heart-wrenching front row seat to Finn’s past (and current) trauma and deteriorating mental health. You’ll be sucked into the whirlpool and feel like you can’t take a breath to the final page. This was a hard and beautiful story, and one that needed to be told. Five stars (and several dozen tissues).

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