Five minutes with Jennifer Niven
Published on: 12 January 2015
Author Jennifer Niven talks to us about All the Bright Places, writing mental health, and the importance of portraying healthy relationships in teen fiction.
All the Bright Places is a remarkable story of friendship, love, and dealing with suffering. The story offers alternating accounts from Finch's and Violet's perspectives and provides a poignant insight into their individual mental health issues as well as how each person impacts the other's life. The ebb and flow of their moods, from jubilant to content to depressed and angry, is beautifully reflected by their attempts to understand and help each other. All the Bright Places will pull you in and won't let you go again, even long after you turned the final page – a must-read, to share with friends.
We really loved All the Bright Places, what was the inspiration behind the story?
Thank you! I wrote All the Bright Places because I once knew and loved a boy. And then I lost him, and it changed my life. But I wasn't sure anyone would understand me if I talked about it, so I wrote about it instead, knowing there are others like him who need to know that it gets better, help is out there, high school isn't forever, and life is long and vast and full of joy.
Your depiction of mental illness in All the Bright Places has been praised in Buzzfeed's 'What it meant to see my depression reflected in a YA book: How Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places gets mental illness right', what was it like doing the research for the book?
I come from a non-fiction background-my first two books were non-fiction-so I love to research. I read interviews, essays, memoirs of people with mental illnesses. But the most valuable material came from knowing and loving the boy I mentioned. I saw up-close the extreme highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep and his struggles to be in this world. I've also experienced a lot of loss in my life, so I didn't have to research what it was like for Violet in the wake of her sister's death. Those first-hand experiences, more than anything, informed the writing.
Writing is a vital part of Violet's life, and she sets out to start an online magazine with her friends. Do you have any tips for teens wanting to do something similar?
Create the kind of content/magazine that you'd like to read. That's always the best thing to do-each of my books was written because I wanted to read it. Dream big, plan big, but start small and build. Talk to your friends and get them involved. Reach out to other writers, whether you know them or not, because it's great to include all different kinds of perspectives. Most of all, have fun! Creating an online magazine is hard work, but it's rewarding and you should never lose sight of the fact that you're doing it because you love it.
Violet and Finch quote a lot of excerpts from books to each other and books seem to be an important anchor for both characters that connects them to the world and to each other. What role has reading played in your own life?
When I was an only child transplanted to landlocked Indiana from the shores of southern Maryland, I discovered Judy Blume. In Maryland, I had danced and painted and written stories. I didn't play team sports and I wasn't blond and petite and a cheerleader like the girls at my Indiana school. Judy Blume's characters, more than my own parents, knew how I felt, what I thought, what I feared. In high school, I graduated to the Brontë sisters, whose dark, dramatic longing spoke to my ongoing sense of displacement. Books reach into the darkest, loneliest parts of us and remind us it's okay. They also connect us to others, reassuring us that we're not alone and that there are others like us.
If teens loved reading All the Bright Places, what other books would you recommend to them?
Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park, Stephen Chbosky's Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and Nest by Esther Ehrlich, which is technically middle grade, but which everyone should read.