All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

I try to keep up with my YA reading so that I can stay one step ahead of my daughters (ok, that’s my story anyway). On any given day, my thumbs up or down on a book may incite interest or disdain, depending on their ever-changing esteem of me. Having said that, there are over 42,000 people on Goodreads who have already weighed in with their votes on this one, and I will bow to peer pressure and agree with them. Well, not really. I mean, yes, I agree with them, but I formed my own opinion, I swear.


I read recently that 80% of all YA purchases were made by adults, and I am still wondering what this really means — are adults reading them, or just paying for them? Is everyone else a sap like I am when it comes to a kid begging for a new book? I mean, my kids love to buy new books, but they especially love to buy them when I’m paying. Who wouldn’t, really? To be fair, despite my own career, I can say with some certainty that my husband has pretty much funded all of our purchases, in a kind of domino effect where I take the credit from my kids and pass along the expense to him. Shhh! That’s our secret; he never reads this blog.


Anyway, when I first began reading this book, I was immediately reminded of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, and was a little annoyed that the plots were so similar. But thankfully, they veered from each other fairly quickly, and I was pulled into the story. Much as I like to go against the crowd, I did love this book. I had minor quibbles with the plot, but these were mostly because I was reading as a parent whose child would probably want to read this book. It has been compared to Fault in Our Stars, and I would agree with that on some levels, especially given similarities in structure.


Personally, I preferred the characters here — they seemed a little less snarky, not always ready with the witty retort. My main concern is one I also felt with John Green’s book, where life-threatening conditions are kind of glamourized, much as teens may think they are gritty. Life (cancer, mental illness) isn’t all camera-ready and film worthy, but both of these books are. At the risk of being a spoiler, I will say that the protagonists deal with mental illness that is spoken about in vague, general terms throughout most of the book. I recognized the situation immediately, but I am not convinced that younger readers would grasp the full import of the condition. What I mean is, if you didn’t know it, you might think he was just oddly charming and full of energy (except when he’s not) until well into the story. Subtleties like this are not always evident to a kid who has no experience with these conditions.


What’s more, there are some extremely negligent parents in this book, and I am still trying to wrap my head around that. I even gave my daughter a few examples and asked her, “Did you ever hear of anyone’s parents letting them do that?” No. Never. Bizarre. But really, this is fiction, and quite honestly, I felt like god’s gift to parenting after I finished reading this book. To be fair, there were two sets of parents that were played off each other like good cop/bad cop, but I compared myself to the worst set, of course.


Enough said, just buy the book. Click on the link above, go to the store in town, or swipe it from your parent or kid. If you know a teen or are one, you will not want to miss this book, and in our house, you have to read the book before you see the movie anyway.