There are some authors that I have waited for months to feature here and Jennifer Niven is one of those poor hounded authors that I worked so hard to get here for you today. A girlfriend recommended that I read her book All the Bright Places and as soon as I finished it (you can read our review here), I emailed Jennifer to see if I could secure her for an interview. She happened to just be leaving on book tour though and said she would answer my questions when she returned. This one was worth the wait.
I am so glad she followed through on this interview with me especially amid her enormous undertaking of adapting this movie into a film starring Elle Fanning!! Yup, Jennifer is writing the script and I have been waiting to share that with you today. I’m so proud of this writer and this book she has created.
All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.
Grab your coffee and let’s settle in to learn more about Jennifer’s incredible book and the real-life Finch that inspired this beautiful story!
In All the Bright Places, you send your two characters (Finch & Violet) on an epic road trip to discover Indiana. I actually live in Indiana so I really loved how you created this for them. Were these destinations real and, if so, did you visit them?
All of the destinations Finch and Violet wander are real except one—the bookmobile park. (But oh, how I wish it existed!) I grew up in Indiana, but I hadn’t visited all of the places until after I wrote the book. In April, I traveled from California (where I live now) to the sites with the producers and director of the upcoming All the Bright Places We saw the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, the Blue Hole, Gravity Hill, the Ultraviolet Apocalypse, the Taylor Prayer Chapel, Hoosier Hill, the Purina Tower in my hometown (Richmond), and we even went up into the bell tower of my high school, which was where I envisioned Finch and Violet meeting.
But my favorite place of all was John and Sharon Ivers’ backyard roller coasters.We rode the Blue Flash and the Blue Too over and over again. And it was AMAZING.
You tackle the issue of mental illness in this book, specifically bipolar disorder. As someone who has personally known someone with this illness, you truly capture the manic highs and lows of Finch in a very real way. What inspired you to share about this mental illness and what has been your response from kids who have read this book?
Years ago, I loved a real-life Finch and he was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I also saw how funny he could be and how vibrantly alive. In knowing him, I experienced firsthand the stigma associated with mental disorders—both from the perspective of this boy I loved and from mine—and I realized that we need to make people feel safe enough to come forward and say, “I have a problem. I need help.” If we don’t talk about suicide or depression or mental illness, how can we expect anyone to reach out for help when they need it most?
The response to All the Bright Places has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. But they’ve also written to tell me they see themselves in Violet and/or Finch and reading about these characters who they identify with so closely has helped them realize that the world really can be a bright place, no matter how dark it may seem. I’m hearing daily from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone. (Here are some helpful links to organizations that get it, that care: check here and here for a resource list to assist.
All the Bright Places is going to be hitting theaters starring Elle Fanning as Violet. How involved are you in the adaptation of your book into film and what scene are you most excited to see come to life on the big screen?
I’m so excited! I’ve been asked to write the script, which I’m working on now, and I’m thrilled and honored to have that opportunity. The scene I’m most excited to see on the big screen is when Finch leaves his car by the side of the road because it won’t go fast enough, and as he’s running he passes a nursery where he collects flowers for Violet.
I don’t want to give away the ending of this book for those that have not read it, but I would love to know if you feel that ending the book the way you did ended with the right message about the topic of mental illness and if you entertained another way of ending this story?
I never questioned how All the Bright Places would end. I knew in my bones that the only ending could be the one I wrote, not just because too many stories about teen mental health are tied up in neat little packages with bows on top, but because it’s the ending I lived with the real-life Finch. It was the ending I knew to tell. In terms of the message it sends, from what I can tell via readers, especially readers who see themselves in Finch, they are walking away from the book with the right message: they are not alone. It is important to speak up, to ask for help. And even in the darkest times, it’s possible to find bright places.
I have read that it took you a mere six weeks to crank out All the Bright Places. This is such an incredible feat! Why do you think this story came together so quickly this time?
Because it was a story I had carried with me for a long time, and because it came from the heart.
You have tackled so many different genres as a writer, but this is your first young adult book. Is there a particular genre that you love the most and what did you love the most about writing a YA fiction versus the other genres you have tackled?
I love YA the most. As one reader put it, “Jennifer Niven thinks 18,” which I take as a huge compliment. I feel at home in the voice, and I absolutely love what’s being done in the genre—some of the bravest, boldest topics are being explored, and I think that’s fantastic. YA is fearless, and YA readers are the most passionate and voracious of all.
If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?
Wonder by RJ Pallacio.
You can connect with Jennifer Niven on GoodReads,on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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