“Is today a good day to die?” is the strangely fascinating opening sentence to Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places. Death is a sensitive topic; however, Niven plays around with its meaning, making it neither overwhelmingly heavy nor something to fear.
The opening moment involves two unlikely 12th-graders, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, who meet on top of a six-story bell tower at school. It’s unclear who saves whom, but later they pair up for a school project to discover “the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising” parts of their home state Indiana. But soon, what they find is that they’re not just discovering these landmarks, but their true identities.
Though it’s a literary cliché to have two teenagers with completely different personalities begin to fall in love, Niven gives realistic traits to the characters. Even though Finch has constant thoughts about death, he is comical and sarcastic. While up on the bell tower, he turns to see that there is a girl only a few feet to the side of him. To start conversation, he jokes, “Come here often?” I went through a Sarah Dessen phase, and it seemed that she had an outline for each of her books because they all seemed the same, only the characters had different names. But in All the Bright Places, the characters have refreshing, relatable personalities.
Also, I felt involved with the storyline of the novel. Occasionally, Finch would send Violet a Facebook message, or together they would come up with things to do at the next “not-ordinary” destination. The book then became more than just words on paper, but made me, the reader, feel like a part of the story line, too.
Structurally, Niven pulls a Flipped—each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character. Although it’s interesting to see different opinions on the same topic, it can be a little confusing, because the chapter scheme didn’t always resemble a volley between Finch then Violet; sometimes three consecutive chapters would feature the same character, before the book moved abruptly to the other character. Reading the name at the top of the page before diving into the text is important to avoid confusion.
But overall, All the Bright Places is an enjoyable young adult novel that ironically involves a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.