I can't tell you what was different this time around, only that when I woke up, I felt deader than usual. Awake, yeah, but completely empty, like someone had been feasting on my blood. (1.6)
Finch's last depressive episode really took something out of him. It sounds like his illness is getting worse, not better.
I smile so she can see what I mean. Everything where it should be, on the outside at least. (1.26)
Finch implies that there's something wrong on the inside, where people can't see. We soon learn that's true.
The fact is, I was sick, but not in an easily explained flu kind of way. It's my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other recognizable disease just to make it simple for me and also for them. (1.86)
One of the problems with mental illness is there's no "proof" on the surface, where people can see. That doesn't mean it's not real, though.
"I get these headaches sometimes. No big deal." This isn't an out-and-out lie, because the headaches are part of it. It's like my brain is firing so fast that it can't keep up with itself. Words. Colors. Sounds. (18.8)
Here Finch describes his manic episodes. Notice he only tells Violet about the headache part and keeps the rest to himself.
Sometimes there are warnings. Sound, of course, and headaches, but I've also learned to look out for things like changes in space, as in the way you see it, the way it feels. (18.17)
Finch has come to recognize the signs of his depressive episodes. As readers, we see him experiencing some of them later in the book.
If he's in the basement, it can only mean one thing. He's in one of his moods, as Mom calls them. (21.4)
Finch says his dad has black moods, which basically involve lots of screaming and physical abuse. We know that Finch has violent tendencies. Maybe it runs in the family.
Upstairs, I brave Decca's chamber of horrors to make sure she's okay. …I find her on the floor, cutting words out of books she's collected from around the house. (21.59-21.60)
When Finch's little sister is upset, she cuts all the "mean parts" out of every book she can find. That sounds an awful lot like something Finch would do. Is it possible she's showing signs of bipolar disorder, too?
She'll tell me to help myself to the Advil in her purse and that I need to relax and stop getting so worked up, because in this house there's no such thing as being sick unless you can measure it with a thermometer under the tongue. (25.7)
Finch is telling all the kids all across the land: Take it from him, parents just don't understand.
"What do you know about bipolar disorder?" I almost say, What do you know about it? But I make myself breathe and smile. "Is that the Jekyll-Hyde thing?" My voice sounds flat and event. Maybe a little bored, even though my mind and body are on alert. (41.36)
In his last meeting with Finch, the school counselor broaches the topic of bipolar disorder. Why do you think Finch acts disinterested?
I want to get away from the stigma they all clearly feel just because they have an illness of the mind as opposed to, say, an illness of the lungs or blood. (44.17)
Though Finch recognizes how the stigma of mental illness affects people in the suicide support group he attends, he doesn't seem to see how it holds him back in his own life.
The nightmares started after the accident. She asks about them every time I see her, because I made the mistake of mentioning them to my mom, who mentioned them to her. This is one of the main reasons why I'm here and why I've stopped telling my mom anything. (2.9)
Violet doesn't feel like she can talk to her parents, especially after her mom rats her out to the school counselor.
Mom is suddenly listening. "Decca." She shakes her head. This is the extent of her parenting. Ever since my dad left, she's tried really hard to be the cool parent. (3.65)
Finch's mom has had a hard time since his dad left the family. As a result, she hasn't been very present as a parent.
Like Ryan, my parents are perfect. They are strong and brave and caring, and even though I know they must cry and get angry and maybe even throw things when they're alone, they rarely show it to me. (5.57)
Violet's parents are perfect…maybe a little too perfect. Sometimes she longs for them to show some real emotion about Eleanor's death.
I told Principal Wertz my dad was killed in a hunting accident. He never bothered to check up on it, and now he calls my mother whenever there's a problem, which means he actually calls Kate because Mom never bothers to check voicemail. (8.8)
Kate, posing as Finch's mom, got him out of school for six weeks, among other things. Sometimes Finch himself deletes voicemail that were meant for his mom.
My mother sighs in relief before taking another drink and going after her. She does her best parenting on Sundays. (8.28)
There are lots of hints that Finch's mom is an alcoholic. That said, is it just us, or is this passage sort of mean?
But it's not just a headache I feel, I can see it, like it's made up of a million colors, all of them blinding. When I tried to describe it to Kate once she said, "You can thank Dad for that. Maybe if he hadn't used your head as a punching bag." (18.8)
This is the first time Finch mentions his father's abuse. It sounds like Finch's injuries may be tied to his bipolar disorder.
I hold up my hands and they're shaking, because my hands, like the rest of me, would like to kill my father. Ever since I was ten and he sent Mom to the hospital with a busted chin, and then a year later when it was my turn. (21.19)
So Finch's dad is a wife beater, too. Wow. What a charmer.
I walk all the way to Violet's, where we build the world's largest snowman. […] Afterward, we sit with her parents around the fire and I pretend I'm part of the family. (32.1)
More than once, Finch mentions how jealous he is of how close Violet is with her family. While we can see where he's coming from, it's a little unfair. Violet's sister just died, after all.
I take a deep breath and dive, grateful for the dark of the water and the warmth against my skin. I swim to get away from Josh Raymond, and my cheating father, and Violet's involved parents who are also her friends, and my sad, deserted mother, and my bones. (32.31)
A lot of the stress in Finch's life comes from his problems with his family. When he contemplates suicide, all of that melts away.
On the big side, my family could be better, but I'm not the only kid who feels that way. At least they haven't thrown me out on the street. (41.12)
Eventually, Finch throws himself out on the street. Do you think things would have been different if he had been closer with his family?
"Do you believe you're responsible for what happened?" I tug on the bangs now. They are lopsided. "No." She sits back. Her smile slips a fraction of an inch. We both know I'm lying. (2.28-2.30)
Violet feels responsible for the death of her sister, Eleanor. Why is she lying to her counselor?
My mother blames our bad behavior on the divorce and my dad. She says we just need time to work through it. (3.70)
Finch's mom blames his dad for a lot of things. She doesn't take any responsibility for her children's problems—or their wellbeing.
"Isn't it nice to have your brother back, Decca?" She says it as if I'm in danger of disappearing again, right in front of their eyes. The slightly blaming note in her voice makes me cringe…. (3.72)
Finch feels a lot of guilt for what he puts people through. We blame his bipolar disorder, not him.
I can't even think of my parents, forced to deal with the death of their only remaining child. Not even an accidental death, but an intentional one. That's one reason I came tonight without a fight. I feel ashamed of what I almost put them through. (5.22)
Violet wasn't thinking about her parents when she was standing on that ledge, but she sure is thinking about them now.
The act of writing…makes me feel as if I'm cheating on her. Maybe because I'm here and she's not, and the whole thing—every big or small moment I've lived since last April—feels like cheating in some way. (13.51)
Why does Violet blame herself for her sister's death, anyway?
"You deserve better. I can't promise you I'll stay around, not because I don't want to. It's hard to explain. I'm a fuckup. I'm broken, and no one can fix it. I've tried. I'm still trying. I can't love anyone because it's not fair to anyone who loves me back." (32.56)
Finch doesn't think he deserves love. But Violet loves him just the way he is.
I ride past her house and continue across town to Finch's, and the whole thing is so easy, even though I have this weird stitch in my chest because I just lied to my parents. (38.23)
Violet sneaks around with Finch after her parents forbid her from seeing him. Hey, at least she has the grace to feel bad about it.
"Are you feeling okay?" I try not to sound like the blaming girlfriend. Why won't you spend time with me? Why won't you call me back? Don't you like me anymore? (45.22)
Sometimes Violet feels like she's walking on eggshells with Finch. It makes it hard for her to ask him certain questions, such as "Why are you sleeping in your bedroom closet?"
I don't go for her or for her dad or for Kate or for Decca. I go for me. Maybe because I know whatever I find will be my fault. (53.1)
Just as Violet felt responsible for her sister's death, she feels responsible for Finch's. That's a lot of guilt to carry around.
They are no longer mad at me, because they're furious with Mrs. Finch, and probably Finch too, although they haven't said so. My dad, as usual, is more outspoken than my mom, and I overhear him talking about That woman…. (54.3)
Violet's parents blame Finch's mother for his death. They don't know that Finch went to great lengths to hide his illness from her.
Maybe, if I wear the glasses long enough, I can be like her. I can see what she saw. I can be both of us at once so no one will have to miss her, most of all me. (2.49)
After her sister's death, Violet wears Eleanor's glasses as a way to see the world through her eyes. They just give her a headache, though.
"He's a gentleman." There aren't many people who would say this about me, but the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody. (3.41)
Do you think that Finch is someone different to everybody?
I fish through my desk for a cigarette, stick it in my mouth, and remember as I'm reaching for my lighter that Theodore Finch, '80s kid, doesn't smoke. God, I hate him, the clean-cut, eager little prick. (3.55)
When Finch changes his image, he really goes for it, down to habits. It's sort of like method acting, but for real life.
The walls are lined with school photos. Finch in kindergarten. Finch in middle school. He looks different every year, not just agewise but personwise. Class-clown Finch. Awkward Finch. Cocky Finch. Jock Finch. (11.16)
We like this image of the Wall of Many Finches. It's sad, though, that Finch never felt like he found himself.
I…catch sight of myself in the mirror…I lean in and look at myself, and it's not my face but someone else's. (21.78)
Sometimes Finch can't even recognize himself. Is that a symptom of his bipolar disorder?
"By the way? Ryan Cross is a kleptomaniac. He steals stuff for fun. And not even things he wants, but everything. His room looks like one of those rooms on Hoarders. Just in case you thought he was perfect." (32.60)
Well, well, well. The Bartlett High dreamboat is a secret criminal. We knew Ryan couldn't be that perfect.
I love…the way she looks at me as if there's only me, as if she can see past the flesh and bone and bullshit right into the me that's there, the one I don't even see myself. (40.79)
It's true that, on some level, Violet sees Finch more clearly than he sees himself. On another level, there are things he hides from her that make him hard to know.
Amanda, as Rachel, avoids looking at me. In a wooden voice she recites, "I'm Rachel, I'm seventeen, I'm bulimic, and I tried to kill myself twice, both times with pills. I hide myself away with smiles and gossip." (44.15)
Looks like Finch isn't the only one hiding his mental illness. The big reveal of Amanda's secret is sort of awful, though, considering she's so mean to Finch for being a "freak."
Which of my feelings are real? Which of the mes is me? There is only one me I've ever really liked, and he was good and awake as long as he could be. (49.2)
Finch's identity is so fractured or broken. He doesn't have a strong sense of self. He feels lost.
Will other people be able to tell? I take a picture with my phone, fake smiling as I pose, and when I look at it, there's Violet Markey. I could post it on Facebook right now, and no one would know that I took it After instead of Before. (54.2)
It's worth remembering that the selves people post to Facebook and Instagram aren't necessarily representative of real life.
Is today a good day to die? This is something I ask myself in the morning when I wake up. In third period when I'm trying to keep my eyes open while Mr. Schroeder drones on and on. At the supper table as I'm passing the green beans. At night when I'm lying awake…. (1.1-1.2)
Finch thinks about killing himself most, if not all, of the time. He doesn't talk about it, though. We just know because we can read his thoughts.
I delete her notes and mine. I delete the hosting company email. And then I empty my trash so that the email is as dead and gone as Eleanor. (7.5)
Violet feels like her words died with her sister. Eventually, we see them come back to life. Hmm, does that mean they're technically zombies?
"I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. Especially when there is so much else to do." The quote is from Virginia Woolf's suicide note to her husband, but I think it fits the occasion. (8.47)
Finch quotes not just Virginia Woolf, but Virginia Woolf's suicide letter in one of his first messages to Violet. This dude is intense.
"There's a built-in ending to everything in the world, right? I mean, a hundred-watt lightbulb is designed to last seven hundred and fifty hours. The sun will die in about five billion years. We all have a shelf life." (20.45)
Finch talks about death as a natural phenomenon. And it's true: All things come to an end.
It takes strength to push myself up, because I need air by now, badly. The panic comes back, stronger this time, and then I aim myself for the surface. …I'm sorry, Violet. I won't leave you again. (32.37)
Finch makes at least two suicide attempts that we see before the final one, which we don't see. We know he fought to stay alive.
Note to self: Suicide is not a laughing matter, particularly for authority figures who are in any way responsible for you. (41.33)
Finch has a real sense of humor about his problems. It's partly a defense mechanism, but it's partly just his personality.
I think of the mud nest we made for the cardinal, all those years ago, and wonder if it's still there. I imagine his little bones in his little grave, and it is the saddest thought in the world. (43.2)
One time, in Finch's childhood, a bird died. He has a real hangup about this event. We probably hear this story half a dozen times.
I push my limbs through the doors of the emergency room and say to the first person I see, "I swallowed pills and can't get them out of me. Get them out of me." (43.18)
This is Finch's second suicide attempt. Why does he change his mind at the last minute?
This isn't a nature class, but a support group for teens who are thinking about, or have attempted, or have survived, suicide. I found it on the internet. (44.1)
Finch goes to a suicide support group that's supposed to be uplifting, but it leaves him feeling more depressed than ever. He didn't like the cookies, for one thing.
At school the entire student body seems to be in mourning. There is a lot of black being worn, and you can hear sniffling in every classroom. Someone has built a shrine to Finch…. (55.1)
Violet is mad by how her classmates react to Finch's death. She thinks they're hypocrites.
"Let me ask you something. Do you think there's such a thing as a perfect day?"
"A perfect day. Start to finish. When nothing terrible or sad or ordinary happens. Do you think it's possible?" (1.52-1.54)
Finch is obsessed with the idea of a perfect day. He tells Violet that he found one with her.
This time last year, I would have loved to talk about college. Eleanor and I used to do this sometimes after Mom and Dad had gone to bed. (2.17)
Violet's co-conspirator was Eleanor. They always talked about their hopes, dreams, and plans. After Eleanor died, those dreams died with her.
Since the summer before seventh grade, NYU's creative writing program has been my dream. […] My plan was to apply for early admission in October. But then the accident happened and I changed my mind. (2.19)
Violet says she crossed NYU off her list because of snow (which she now hates). Do you think there's anything else going on here?
And then 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. (17.5)
It turns out Violet wants to drive again. Finch wants to meet Boy Parade and kiss Violet. He gets one of those wishes, anyway.
Even though it isn't much yet, I take a picture and send it to Finch. I write: Look what you've got me doing. (22.6)
Finch gets Violet writing again by tricking her into taking notes for their school project. Eventually, it leads to her planning a new web magazine.
Then we're under the blanket again, discussing all the places in the world we want to wander […] Without consulting the computer, we list the places we might go, taking turns. (38.28, 38.32)
Violet and Finch make plans for their future, traveling together beyond the confines of Indiana. It doesn't happen for him, but she still hopes to wander.
She sets down the bucket and undoes the latch. For a few seconds, all she does is breathe in the scent of the flowers, and then she turns to me and, without a word, kisses me. When she pulls away, she says, "No more winter at all. Finch, you brought me spring." (40.78)
During a manic episode, Finch makes a grand romantic gesture of bringing Violet flowers. They represent hope.
As she exhales, she says, "He's supposed to go to NYU, you know."
"Theo." […] "He got early acceptance." (52.29-52.30)
Ironically, Finch was going to go to NYU, which was once Violet's dream school. Now, neither of them will be going (unless Violet transfers there later).
Theodore Finch, April 3. "Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!" (56.29)
Finch and Violet are all about Oh, the Places You'll Go!, the Dr. Seuss book. Finch knew the words by heart.
I think of my own epitaph, still to be written, and all the places I'll wander. No longer rooted, but gold, flowing. I feel a thousand capacities spring up in me. (59.6)
The book ends on a hopeful note, with Violet looking toward the future. We're happy for her.
But I haven't touched the site since Eleanor died, because what would be the point? It was a site about sisters. Besides, in that instant we went plowing through the guardrail, my words died too. (2.22)
Violet gave up her web magazine after Eleanor's death. Eventually, she starts writing a new one—a sign of positive change in her life.
I think of how many girls would love to receive a note like this from Ryan Cross. The Violet Markey of last spring would have been one of them. (2.54)
Violet had just starting going out with Ryan when her sister died. She tries to go out with him a few times after that, but the magic is gone.
Amanda used to be one of my closest friends, but ever since April, I've drifted away from her. Since I quit cheering, we don't have much in common. I wonder if we ever did. (5.2)
Eventually, Violet and Amanda rekindle their friendship. The second time around, they come to it as different people. Violet has experienced loss, and Amanda has "come out" as bulimic and suicidal.
I take a good long look at her. I know life well enough to know you can't count on things staying around or standing still, no matter how much you want them to. (18.11)
Even when Finch is feeling fine, he knows a change is coming. He tries to make the good moments count.
"This morning, your parents painted a pretty good picture of the you you used to be. That other Violet sounds fun and kind of badass, even if she had horrible taste in music. Now I see someone who's too afraid to get back out there." (16.12)
Violet experiences a lot of shifts in her own personality and behavior after her sister's death. Eventually, these even out, though she's still sad.
"We just weren't sure…we didn't know if we'd ever see you drive again. The accident changed a lot of things and it took a lot of things." (45.4)
Violet's behavior changed pretty dramatically after her sister's death. She wouldn't drive or even ride in a car for nearly a year.
Like that, the smile is gone. "I can't help it. It's what I am. I warned you this would happen." His voice turns cold instead of angry, which is worse because it's like he's stopped feeling. (48.75)
Finch has wild mood swings. Those changes are a symptom of his bipolar disorder, which isn't his fault. Still, he blames himself.
Even when they bring the body up, swollen and bloated and blue, I think: That's not him. That's someone else. This swollen, bloated, blue thing with the dead, dead skin is not anyone I know or recognize. (53.27)
This change in Finch is the hardest one to stomach, both for Violet and for us.
I stand in front of the mirror and study my face. …It is the face of a sad, lonely girl something bad has happened to. I wonder if my face will ever look the same again, or if I'll always see it in my reflection—Finch, Eleanor, loss, heartache, guilt, death. (54.1)
Violet feels fundamentally changed by the deaths of people close to her.
Your hope lies in accepting your life as it now lies before you, forever changed. If you can do that, the peace you seek will follow. Forever changed. I am forever changed. (55.24-55.26)
Violet doesn't feel happy about the changes in her life, or even understand them. She does, however, accept them.
"I suggest a field trip. We need to see the wondrous sights of Indiana while we still can, because at least three of us in this room are going to graduate and leave our great state at the end of this year…." (3.11)
Finch is all about field trips, but Mr. Black is a step ahead of him. He wants his students to take more than one field trip around the glorious state of Indiana.
"You'll be departing our…great state, and before…you do, you should…see it. You should…wander…." (3.13)
Just FYI, this is how Mr. Black talks. (We didn't leave anything out.) He wants his students to gather their rosebuds while they may.
I've got a map in my car that wants to be used, and I think there are places we can go that need to be seen. Maybe no one else will ever visit them and appreciate them or take the time to think they're important, but maybe even the smallest places mean something. (3.84)
Finch is pretty, pretty, pretty excited about this road trip. So excited that he sent the longest chat ever in the history of chatting, excerpted here.
We alternate choosing places to go, but we also have to be willing to go where the road takes us. This means the grand, the small, the bizarre, the poetic, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising. Just like life. (4.4)
This is one of Finch's "rules for wandering." Life is a highway, etc.
Then his voice turns light again and he is singing the words. You'll find the bright places where the Boom Bands are playing. (20.34-20.35)
By now, you probably recognize this quote (from Oh, the Places You'll Go!). That book is all about exploring life—and this one is, too.
I tell myself that we can just take off in Little Bastard and head west or east, north or south, till we've left Indiana far behind. We'll wander the country and then the world, just Theodore Finch and me. (38.9)
Violet and Finch fantasize about a road trip, but it never happens.
Even when we weren't wandering, even from the floor of your closet, you showed the world to me. (55.57)
We're pretty impressed that Finch managed to lure his normal otherwise normal girlfriend into the closet where he was living. Now, that's charm.
And then I find it in my bag, on my third time checking, as if it appeared out of thin air. I spread it out and look at the remaining points that are circled. There are five more places to see on my own. (55.63)
Needless to say, Violet goes to these five places, where Finch has left little signs and gifts for her to see. It's sad, but it brings her some comfort.
I don't need to worry that Finch and I never filmed our wanderings. It's okay that we didn't collect souvenirs or that we never had time to pull it all together in a way that made sense to anyone else but us. The thing I realize is that it's not what you take, but it's what you leave. (58.44-58.45)
It's comforts Violet to know that, while she doesn't have a ton of photos or anything like that, she has memories of Finch. She vows to remember him even though it hurts.
I think of my own epitaph, still to be written, and all the places I'll wander. (59.6)
Instead of, say, crawling into a hole to cry, Violet has decided she still has some stuff to see. Brava.