You know those books that you hug at the end? This is one of those books. All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is just plain good—heartbreaking, sad, fun, eye opening, and well written. It has everything you need to make an impact on readers, especially those who struggle with mental health.
The main characters, Finch and Violet, are strangers assigned to be partners for a high school project to discover “natural wonders” in their community. Both are unsure if the other will carry their weight or if it’ll be like pulling teeth to get through the time together. They come from opposite social circles but find out they have a lot in common. Having each other ends up being life changing, and more important, life saving.
There is an organization who puts up chalkboard wall art for the public to interact with called the “Before I Die Project.” According to its website, it “reimagines how the walls of our cities can help us grapple with mortality and meaning as a community today.” This organization says it has more than 5,000 walls in 78 countries and in 35 languages. One of Finch and Violet’s adventures to discover natural wonders is this art exhibit.
…. I can see something along the wall, stretching for the entire length of it. Finch keeps going and comes to a sudden stop at the far end.
Before I die… it says on what looks like a giant chalkboard. And there below these giant white letters are column after column, line after line, that say Before I die I want to __________. And the blanks have been filled in with different colors of chalk, smudged and half melted from the rain and snow, in all different handwriting.
We walk along reading. Before I die I want to have kids. Live in London. Own a pet giraffe. Skydive. Divide by zero. Play the piano. Speak French. Write a book. Travel to a different planet. Be a better dad than mine was. Feel good about myself. Go to New York City. Know equality. Live.
Finch bumps my arm and hands me a piece of chalk. (135)
Have students write their own "Before I die I want to ___" statements. Download the lesson below!
Jennifer Epping is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She has a passion for reading, writing, and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her ninth year teaching. Epping graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York.