from All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven


At home in my room I am overcome by words. P 201

This week I saw an ad for an event featuring authors, Gayle Foreman, Matt Haig and Jennifer Niven talking about depression in teens. They are some of my favorite writers and it hadn’t occurred to me until now that they have a unifying theme in their work. And that they have a unifying message: books can help teens in a variety of ways. Their books contain such clear voices and powerful characterization, two reasons I am drawn to them.

But lately I have been feeling like I’ve OD on YA. I’ve been practically giddy when I run across words like gusting and aggrandizing in my adult fiction. That’s not to say YA books should be penalized for their word choices. And here I think of Hemingway: ‘Do you really think big emotions come from big words?’ Talented authors choose the words they need to convey their thoughts and to sound in the voice of their character. And the books are stronger for it. Speaking as someone who spends quite a bit of time in that section, these authors pull me in and keep me coming back for more. Addiction is a strong word, but its not far off the mark.

Books are my language, my lexicon, my currency. They are the means by which I communicate with friends, the lens I look through or as I heard this weekend, the keyhole through which I view my reality.

I recommended “All the Bright Places” to a friend and she called me early on Saturday and left a message. When I had the chance to listen I could tell that her voice was raw with emotion as she thanked me and cursed me with the same breath. But I could tell that Violet and Finch had worked their magic on her too, you cannot read this book and come away unchanged. These experiences I have when I read are valuable and I treasure them. They are the foundation for my recommendations. When I feel an evangelical zeal towards a book—to quote John Green —I want everyone to know. Short of shoving it in their hands and forcing them to read with violence or blackmail… Well, that’s not really my way. I try to frame it in a way that they realize how much they need to read the book. A subtle suggestion, a casual reference; something to make it seem as if they absolutely, positively must read this book. Right now, right this very minute. Perhaps you’ve had this experience before and when you dive into the pages you don’t even think about coming up for air, you just submerge.

At dinner this week, my friend reminded me why we read YA. She felt very strongly that it’s the voice. The connection we feel stimulates a powerful response. And that’s not limited to age or gender. In YA there is the very feel and fully realized limning between the adult world and adolescence. I find this meeting place fascinating. With this inspiration I’m starting an “I Read YA” bookclub as a joint venture between my bookstore and library. It will be for anyone who reads young adult, teens and grown ups alike.

I would be interested to hear what people say about this book. It’s my January staff pick for the store but given the recent events in my town I have mixed reservations about being a cheerleader for a book with this topic. Depression is still such a taboo subject but we’re starting to make some sense of it: having conversations, seeing it as a disability or a disorder not to be dismissed as someone merely feeling sad. These are the books that show kids a what if scenario, how one might act or react in a certain situation. Mirrors and windows. You see yourself or you see someone else struggling. These books give language on how to speak about a subject, they give voice to a teen who doesn’t know how to talk about their own issues. Teens who are underserved or misrepresented. Sometimes I wish we could carry around a book that best represented us, one glance and you would know who they are by what they’ve read. Without saying a word,a connection is there, opening up the chance to know them fully. A conversation starter, much like Aimee Bender’s character in “An Invisible Sign of My Own” or Spinelli’s “Stargirl.” Each of those dear-to-me characters used numbers to convey their state of being. But if we had to choose a character, I might feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s a toss up between “Inkheart” and “Time Traveler’s Wife.”

I leave you with this quote by Matthue Roth from p 90 in the “Don’t Forget to Write”, a book of ideas from 826 Valencia. From his section: How to write a young adult novel

One note: young adult novels are usually short. There’s a reason for that, and its not (usually) laziness. It’s immediacy. First, step outside the frame. Take a good long look at what’s happening and write your book. Then jump right back in. Writing from the mind of a teenage character is hard mostly because there’s so much LIVING involved in being a teenager. You have to write fast because life happens so fast.

That sums up for me how I feel about these books. I am drawn to the immediacy and intimacy with which they are written and when I find a new book or a new author, I can’t wait to get home and read. To quote Niven one last time:

It’s like all the other hours of the day are spent looking forward to right now. p 215

These books are powerful and important they deserve a wider audience. How about you, have you read some YA today?

2 thoughts on “from All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

  1. What it keeps coming to for me, over and over, is that books that talk about these hard and awful things that really happen are indispensable, if only to tell a struggling teen that she is not alone. How many times has it helped someone to know that those crazy-seeming, soul-sucking feelings are not hers alone, that many people have experienced them before– and overcome them?

  2. i do not even know how i found your site a few days ago, but find you i did and am slowly working my way through your posts. i`ve just reas top ten clues you`re clueless by liz czurkas, which i liked for the reasons you quoted. i do not know if i can read this book, even after almost 15 years, because from what i read about it, i might have known a finch and i might have been violet, a lifetime ago. and my finch didn`t make it. but i loved reading about the book and i agree that it is so important to write about stuff like that to make one another know that we are, indeed, not alone. best from farway berlin, anja

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