Whatcha reading? All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Teen suicide is a hot topic in YA literature and in the news; this confluence practically guarantees an author of a new novel involving suicide a spot on the Banned Books lists, as happened to Jay Asher, author of the bestselling Thirteen Reasons Why. (Cynics might point out that this designation is more likely to sell books in our current social media-rabid society than not.) Why the immediate attention? Some studies say that suicide is contagious, that once one teen in a town does it, others likely will follow, seeing the attention that follows as glamorous and desirable, and perhaps most importantly, more than s/he would ever get alive. In Massachusetts for example, look at Scituate in 2011. Look at Newton in 2014. Type "teen suicide contagious" into any search engine, and you will find a plethora of reports of the spread of suicide through families, through schools, and through communities. Yet here in Jennifer Niven's newest novel and first YA, one teen thinks he wants to die because he can't see how to live; another thinks she wants to live but feels guilty because she didn't die. With seven billion people in the world and counting, some might say, who cares? We could all do with fewer people sucking up the world's resources; if they don't or don't want to live, so be it. But we all have people we want to live, "our" people, if you will, and when one of them is threatened, everything looks different.

Finch and Violet: their names are twee, and yet I like them immediately. What I don't like is how I feel manipulated, how I feel I should like them, should believe in them, should root for them. A nagging feeling tells me that the real problem is not buying it, not buying them, that they would ever be more to each other than too-bold stares on his part and too-meek head-ducking on her part. Even in fiction, especially in fiction, I'd like to believe that he would take her on as a project and she would let that happen. But I don't. And I like my fiction to be truer than true, if you know what I mean. It can be as fantastical as all get out, but it must make sense within the universe. My bottom of stomach dread: Jennifer Niven's high school universe wouldn't allow for Finch + Violet the way that Rainbow Rowell's did for Eleanor + Park.

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