Wander Indiana with Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places

PHOTO CREDIT: Doug Kerr. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

“The whole time I’ve been in Indiana, which is all my life—the purgatory years, I call them—we’ve apparently lived just eleven miles away from the highest point in the state. No one ever told me, not my parents or my sisters or my teachers, until right now, right this minute, in the ‘Wander Indiana’ section of U.S. Geography—the one that was implemented by the school board this year in an effort to ‘enlighten students as to the rich history available in their own home state and inspire Hoosier pride.’ No joke.”1

Violet Markey can’t stop thinking about her sister’s death, and Theodore Finch can’t stop thinking about his own—two obsessions that bring them both to the ledge of their high school’s bell tower, contemplating suicide. Once they’ve talked each other down, they can only assume they’ve seen the last of each other. But when Mr. Black assigns them a project to learn more about their home state, Finch refuses to work with anyone else. Together, they explore the highs and lows of Indiana, from Hoosier Hill to the Bookmobile Park to the bottomless depths of the Blue Hole, all while helping each other overcome their pasts. Jennifer Niven’s first dive into the world of young adult fiction has produced a beautiful story about two teens grappling with love and depression, and celebrates the hidden treasures of her own childhood home.

Part of the magic of All the Bright Places is its exploration and description of Indiana; each of the locations that Violet and Finch travel to exist in real life. For example, the infamous Blue Hole is located near the town of Prarieton. Local lore claims that pirate treasure, a derailed train, and the unfortunate victims of Chicago mobsters were all lost to its bottomless depths; possible explanations for this are that the bottom—if it does exist—is made of quicksand, or that a whirlpool is to blame. The couple’s first stop, Hoosier Hill, is found in Wayne County, and is open for the public despite being on private property. Even though it is the highest natural point in Indiana, the hill itself only appears to be about thirty feet tall; nevertheless, it stands at 1257 feet above sea level, and was the last site A.H. Marshall visited on his journey to climb each state’s highpoint. Even the more obscure locations that Niven references, such as the Ultraviolet Apocalypse and the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, can be found within the streets and farms of Indiana.

Read more about Hoosier Hill on Wikipedia. Other descriptions about weird places in Indiana and other states can be found on Weird U.S. Find All the Bright Places at a local library or on Amazon.

1Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 27. Print.

Marie McDonough is beginning her junior year at the University of Arizona as a Creative Writing major. She enjoys classic and young adult novels, and spends too much time knitting.

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