I wrote All the Bright Places the summer of 2013, following the death of my literary agent. The last time I saw him, I was nearing the end of a series of books I’d begun writing in 2008 and was feeling depleted. He told me, “Whatever you write next, write it with all your heart. Write it because you can’t imagine writing anything else.”
Years ago, I knew and loved a boy, and that boy 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. The experience of knowing him—and losing him—was life-changing. I’d always wanted to write about it, but I wasn’t convinced I would ever be able to.
That summer of 2013, I thought again about this boy and that experience, and I knew in my heart it was the story I wanted to write. Issues like teen mental health aren’t always talked about openly, even though we need to talk about them. I’d never felt as if I was allowed to grieve for this boy I loved because of how he died. If I was made to feel that way after losing him, imagine how hard it was for him to find help and understanding when he was alive.
After I decided to work on the story, I thought of a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t. All these years later, it was still too painful. And there was another doubt in the back of my mind. When I was a screenwriting student at the American Film Institute, the main criticism I got from my fellow writers was that I didn’t put enough of myself in the stories I wrote. They wondered if I would ever be able to truly open up on paper. Novelist Paul Gallico once said, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” But it’s not always easy to bleed so publically.
When I sat down to write the first chapter of All the Bright Places, I told myself I would just see what happened. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to write anything at all. And then I heard Finch’s first line: Is today a good day to die? And I saw him up on the ledge of his high school bell tower, his classmates down below, the same ones who called him “Theodore Freak.” And then suddenly, Violet was there too, on the other side of the ledge, the popular girl, frozen and needing help.
For the next few weeks, I barely left my desk. The story of this boy and this girl who went from that bell tower ledge to wandering their state—seeing every out-of-the-ordinary site, making it lovely, leaving something behind—flooded right out.
In just six weeks, the book was born. I like to say it’s the book I was writing in my head for the past several years without knowing I was writing it.
My mother, Penelope Niven, was an author as well. She used to say, “You have to be able to write in spite of everything. You have to be able to write because of everything.” In other words, you need to be willing to bleed onto the page, knowing that you will have something on paper which is real and honest. More so than any of my previous books, All the Bright Places proved to me I could do that.
by Jennifer Niven
Theodore Finch wants to take his own life. I’m broken, and no one can fix it.
Violet Markey us devastated by her sister’s death. In that instant we went plowing through the guardrail, my words died too.
They meet on the ledge of the school bell tower, and so their story begins. It’s only together they can be themselves . . .
I send a message to Violet: ‘You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.’
You’re so weird, Finch. But that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.
But, as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?