All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places


Jennifer Niven

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All the Bright Places Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jennifer Niven

Jennifer Niven was raised in Indiana. She attended college in New Jersey and then earned a graduate degree in Los Angeles. Niven’s mother, writer Penelope Niven, inspired and encouraged Niven to write throughout her childhood and into her adult years. Niven published her first book, a nonfiction work called The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk, in 2000. Following this, Niven wrote several adult novels and nonfiction books. In 2013, immediately after finishing an adult novel, Niven had an idea for a young adult novel and wrote the ensuing book, All the Bright Places, over the course of six weeks. The book was inspired by a boyfriend Niven had in her 20s who, like Finch, suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder and ultimately committed suicide. After publishing All the Bright Places, Niven created the online Germ Magazine based off of the fictional magazine that Violet starts in the novel. Through Germ and All the Bright Places, Niven hopes to give young people a safe, supportive space—and to chip away at the stigma surrounding mental illness. All the Bright Places has won a number of awards and was adapted into a Netflix movie starring Elle Fanning in 2020. Since the publication of All the Bright Places, Niven has turned her attention away from writing adult novels and has written more young adult fiction, including Holding Up the Universe and Breathless. She splits her time between California and Georgia and lives with her husband, children, and cats.
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Historical Context of All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places explores several difficult topics, most notably mental illness and suicide. In interviews and in her author’s note, Jennifer Niven confirms that Finch suffers from undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which is characterized by cycles of depression and mania (abnormally heightened mood). Although people have known about bipolar disorder for centuries—Ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates was the first physician to describe the illness—it has historically been heavily stigmatized and mistreated. The illness was often misunderstood as insanity, and prior to the mid-19th century, people suffering with bipolar disorder were often institutionalized rather than treated with proper medication or therapy. Today, mental health professionals have a much clearer understanding of bipolar disorder, but it can still be difficult to diagnose—especially in teenagers and children. This is because some of the hallmark symptoms like moodiness, recklessness, and emotional swings are also associated with normal teen behavior, so recognizing what’s normal and what’s a sign of something more serious can be difficult for families and healthcare providers alike. But the consequences of not getting help with mental health issues, the novel shows, can be devastating—and in some cases, deadly. Suicide consistently ranks in the top 10 causes of death in the United States for all age groups, and according to the Center for Disease Control, it’s the second most common cause of death for people ages 10-34.

Other Books Related to All the Bright Places

Though All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s best-known young adult novel, she’s also written two others: Breathless and Holding Up the Universe. It’s possible to draw a number of similarities between All the Bright Places and the work of John Green, particularly his 2016 novel Turtles All the Way Down. Like most of the teenaged characters in Green’s novels, Niven’s characters are witty and well-read—and Turtles All the Way Down, like All the Bright Places, shows what it’s like to live with mental illness (in that case, OCD). All the Bright Places is one of a number of recent books to explore bipolar disorder. Many of these books are memoirs, such as Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life by Melody Moezzi. Perhaps the best-known fictional representation of bipolar disorder is Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook, which was adapted into an award-winning 2012 film. Within the novel itself, Violet and Finch read a number of classic books, from Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves to Dr. Seuss’s picture book Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. Finch is also extremely interested in writers who died by suicide, most notably Virginia Woolf (who, in addition to The Waves, authored a number of novels such as Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway) and the Italian poet Cesare Pavese.
Key Facts about All the Bright Places
  • Full Title: All the Bright Places
  • When Written: 2013
  • Where Written: California and Georgia
  • When Published: 2015
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction; Issue Novel
  • Setting: The fictional town of Bartlett, Indiana
  • Climax: Violet discovers that Finch drowned in the Blue Hole, presumably by suicide.
  • Antagonist: Gabe “Roamer” Romero; bullying; stigma about mental illness
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for All the Bright Places

Reaching Out. Though Finch only seeks help for his suicidal thoughts once from an in-person support group, there are a variety of resources to people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or who have friends who are struggling. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers both phone (1-800-273-8255) and online chat services with crisis counselors, while a variety of other national and local organizations offer text, phone, or in-person crisis services.

Family Project. In addition to being an author, Niven won an Emmy Award for her 1996 short film Velva Jean Learns to Drive. (Later, in 2009, Niven expanded the script into a novel). Niven’s Velva Jean story, however, is actually based on a four-page short story that Niven’s mother wrote. She bought the rights to her mom’s story for $1 so she could make her film.