All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015)
As soon as I finished this book I just immediately wanted to talk to someone about it, so I'm very glad I read it for a book group. Most of what I want to talk about I can't mention here because of spoilers, which makes it difficult to write about. It's like I have to just ignore everything that came late in the book and focus on the setup, even though what came later is much more important.
From the beginning I found Finch to be sort of an annoying person and I didn't like how he came on so strong to Violet. He would even sort of follow her around, and that would have gotten really old really fast if I were Violet. But I'm not Violet. She was incredibly intrigued by this boy who continued to remain mysterious even as they grew very close. He was a fun guy, and he got her out of her shell. He wasn't afraid to push her out of her comfort zone, which is just what she needed. For so long Violet had gotten out a lot because of the "extenuating circumstances" of her grief, and Finch saw the truth, which is that she really needed to move on with her life. The adults in the book varied from caring to absentee to verging-on-meddling and I found them to be a realistic array.
I love a story centered around a school project! Violet and Finch paired together on a series of field trips to interesting places in Indiana, as part of an assignment to learn more about their state. I loved their trips and the quirky locations they visited, and the fact that they only needed to visit a couple of sites but kept going anyhow. Their project journal sort of turned into a real journal and the assignment became less about school and more about their lives.
This book has been compared to The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park, but that might be going a bit far. Well, it might be. It definitely has the same appeal, with its smart, self-aware teen characters and the pretty heavy subject matter.
It was only when I began reading and happened to glance at the author info on the back jacket that I realized Jennifer Niven also wrote Ada Blackjack! Totally different book, but also really good - it's the true story about an ill-fated Arctic expedition. I recommend it a lot, as I'm sure I will also recommend All the Bright Places.