This book and movie duo was the “bright place” of my summer

Jennifer Niven’s book “All the Bright Places” climbs its way to the top of my favorites list while Netflix’s film version proves itself a colossal disappointment


Arizona Lee

“I know life well enough to know you can’t count on things staying around or standing still, no matter how much you want them to. You can’t stop people from dying. You can’t stop them from going away. You can’t stop yourself from going away either. I know myself well enough to know that no one else can keep you awake or keep you from sleeping.” —Jennifer Niven, All The Bright Places

This article does include spoilers of the All the Bright Places book and movie. It also mentions triggering topics such as suicide, suicidal thoughts, death, depression, and identity and bipolar disorders. Reader discretion is advised.

Due to the pandemic and quarantine this summer, I’ve done more reading and movie-watching than ever before. It seems some of my close friends were doing the same, as many of them texted me about the books they were reading and the films they were watching. That’s when we decided to start our own little “literature/movie club” where we collectively read a novel, watched the correlating film, and then had a discussion about both.

One of the movie and book duos we selected was All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Out of the four of us, myself and another friend had already previously read the book. However, when we saw that Netflix had released an “All the Bright Places” film, we all scrambled to reread the novel and then pile onto the sofa to watch the movie.

Because I enjoyed it so immensely, this book wasn’t at all hard to reread.

The novel spotlights two young teenagers, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey.

Finch is quite the character. He truly brings you through a rollercoaster of emotions with his unusual personality and complex thoughts. He is described as “fascinated with death”, which I agree is very accurate. Finch takes every moment of every day to research different facts about suicide and write down his thoughts on each of the ways to pass. He’s very comfortable with death and isn’t afraid to mention it on a regular basis. 

On top of that, Finch experiences something he has named “the Awake” and “the Asleep”, both of which are extremely hard to explain and understand. During the Asleep, Finch finds himself in a depressed slump for weeks and sometimes months at a time. During these times he spends most of his days inside his room or in a quiet, blank place. During the Awake, however, Finch is able to feel every single aspect of his emotions and body. He mentions being able to feel cells tingle in his body and the detailed energy of the world around him.

Violet Markey used to be what was considered a very “popular” girl. She was a successful student, loved writing and rearranging words, was an incredible cheerleader, and was in a happy relationship. However, all of that is taken away when her older sister, Eleanor Markey, passes away in a tragic car accident. This destroys Violet, turning her into a girl who obsesses over the past as opposed to living for the future. She makes her way through high school like a zombie, not believing anything truly matters anymore. She sees experiences as time fillers until you eventually pass away and no one remembers you. The only thing Violet looks forward to is leaving her tiny Indiana town.

Right from the start, the character development of Finch is phenomenal. He’s interesting, he’s unique, and he makes you want to never stop reading. The way his chapters are written helps you to connect with him and understand where he’s coming from. His experiences and thoughts are in so much detail, you genuinely feel like you’re right there next to him, feeling what he is. Finch could’ve easily been a confusing character, yet he wasn’t. I applaud the author for this.

Unfortunately, Violet is a little more disappointing. Her story is more on the cliche side, and a lot of what she does is predictable. It almost feels like she’s a filler girl for Finch. Don’t get me wrong, she could have been much worse. But she also could have been much better. For one, her backstory is never explained. Besides the accident, the book doesn’t mention anything about what she previously experienced. Along with that, Violet doesn’t seem to have any flaws. It’s odd how they describe her so perfectly, to the point where she doesn’t seem worthy of the beautiful disaster that is Theodore Finch. 

Overall, I don’t believe this takes away too much from the book. It’s still something I highly recommend reading.

I won’t explain the entire novel in extreme detail, but basically Finch and Violet meet in a strange location—on the school bell tower when they’re both considering jumping off. After that, Finch becomes obsessed with Violet, trying to talk to her in the hallways, friend her on Facebook, etc. Finch even volunteers her to be his partner for a project where they are instructed to go to the many wonders of Indiana and write about their wonderful state. 

As Violet refuses to ride in a car ever since the accident, the two teenagers bike to their first location—Hoosier Hill. It’s apparently the highest point in Indiana. Though the way it’s described, it sounds more like a small, sad bump in the ground. Here they start to connect a little more, and Violet notices a couple qualities she really likes about Finch. If I’m being quite honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this small section. It got a bit cheesy, talking about how Violet “lit up” when Finch held her hand and stood on the hill. The rest of these chapters were actually very enjoyable though. 

At each location, the teenagers leave behind some things that they own so that they will always be a part of that “wander of Indiana”, as Finch calls them.

Violet and Finch visit multiple other “wanders”, all of which help them grow closer and become friends. They learn and experience things together, making for a very interesting section of the novel.

They visit a church that holds many chalkboards sporting the phrase “Before I die…”. People have written things they want to see and do and experience on these boards. Violet and Finch do the same.

They also visit a bookmobile and a “bottomless” blue pond.

Unfortunately, Finch soon gets expelled from school for trying to choke a peer who’d called him a “freak”. He gets into a very serious and dark mood afterwards, one that leaves Violet and Finch separated more than usual. Finch begins to stay in his closet for multiple days, refusing to come out. He stays there with his thoughts, which can be dangerous for someone struggling mentally.

I enjoyed how they added such an intense section, really focusing and diving into mental health. Although it’s hard to talk about sometimes, this part especially does a really wonderful job of creating depth, yet still being gentle and respectful. I believe that mental health isn’t addressed nearly as much as it should be, and this book made me realize just how common it is for people to struggle with these thoughts. 

When Violet returns to Finch’s home to check in on him, he is nowhere to be found. Instead, she is left with notes and texts, random words he put down as a sort of trail to where he went. Each phrase he leaves leads her to a “wander” that they weren’t able to visit yet.

Finally, Violet is brought to a large, deep body of water, the only place that they’d previously visited. Finch had claimed it to be a bottomless pit, another “wander of Indiana”. There she finds Finch’s things. She soon realizes exactly what has happened. Finch has put himself to rest by diving deep into the water and never resurfacing. This part was extremely difficult to read. The raw emotion and hurt that Violet felt was written in a way that was almost palpable, even to the reader. Losing a loved one in this situation is so difficult, I can’t even imagine how hard it was to write about. However, it was done in a way that made the reader feel everything that was happening, while still noticing the intensity and pain of such a life-changing moment.

Time passes and Violet is able to cope and grieve while still continuing through her life. She keeps Finch in her heart and leaves behind the very important message that if we are concerned or worried about someone, we should get them help. Mental health is not a joke. It is quite literally one of the most important things in our lives.

Though it is never confirmed, Finch appears to have very extreme depression and possibly an identity or bipolar disorder. His therapist does previously mention this, but Finch is never diagnosed. His symptoms are so blatantly obvious that it shocks me that no one ever attempted to direct him to an adult or check in on him to make sure he was alright when he didn’t show up for school for multiple weeks.

This is honestly insane to me. Did his sisters and mother not question his constant and extreme mood swings? Did his teachers, friends, and classmates not notice how uncomfortable he seemed to be by simply being alive? How could no one check in on him? This just emphasizes the importance of staying in tune with your friends and peers and taking action when something doesn’t seem right.

Words are such a special thing. It’s amazing to me how they can be strung together in a way that is so incredibly beautiful. The words of this book were wonderful, creating a world around the reader that makes them feel the importance of each and every sentence. The novel has quotes like, “You are all the colors in one, at full brightness,” and, “You make me lovely, and it’s so lovely to be lovely to the one I love.” I mean, how can someone arrange words in such a breathtaking way?

With how amazing and heart-wrenching as the book was, my friends and I were excited to see how they put everything into a film.

Right off the bat, we were greeted with an incorrect story line, offensive focus on a cheesy love story rather than mental health, and multiple missing key elements from the book. You’d think that with such a sensitive topic would have gotten more attention, but no.

The film randomly opens up with Finch and Violet standing at the top of a dam, which was never once mentioned in the book. Instead of highlighting why Finch sometimes acted strangely, they just turned all of his actions into quirky little traits that Violet found attractive. 

Remember how I mentioned that Finch could’ve easily been a confusing character? Well, Netflix successfully made him extremely confusing. If I had never once read the book and just stumbled across the movie, I would have been so thrown off that I didn’t even try to read the book.

Oftentimes when books are turned into movies, the movie is still good even if it’s nothing like the book; the book and movie don’t make sense together, but separately, they are very enjoyable. This was not the case here. The book was phenomenal, and I would highly recommend it. The film was offensive, confusing, and was more focused on a love story than trying to convey how important mental health is.

I do understand that romance was a key element of the novel. However, their love for one another bloomed because of how much they both struggled mentally, connecting them and bringing them closer together. Without the mental aspect, the movie simply spotlighted a strange boy and cliche girl who flirted with one another for the entire film before randomly including Finch’s struggle with depression at the end.

Honestly, I’m extremely disappointed in the film.

However, this still doesn’t take away from how much I would recommend the book! It’s a wonderful read, and it taught me a lot about depression and going through high school with a mental illness. It kept me on the edge of my seat and interested me from the very first page. The attention to detail and uniqueness of the story were amazing.

I will warn that it has many sensitive topics, and if you don’t feel stable reading about mental health, depression, bipolar and identity disorders, or suicide and suicidal thoughts, I would not recommend you read this book. I understand what a heavy topic this is and would never want a fellow reader to be triggered while reading this novel. Reader discretion is advised.

I read my copy online at first, borrowing the ebook from an online library app called Overdrive. After that, I purchased my own copy so that I could write in the margins and highlight my favorite lines. If you’d rather read a physical copy, your local public library would be a good place to start (if it has reopened yet).

You definitely will not regret reading this book. I highly suggest you pick up a copy from the library or borrow one online if you’re looking for a thrilling and emotional page-turner.