Violet Markey is popular, and Theodore Finch is the school freak. These two high school seniors might have never gotten to know each other if it weren't for a crazy coincidence: They almost throw themselves out of a window at exactly the same time.
See, ever since the death of her sister in a car accident, Violet hasn't felt like herself. She doesn't like her old friends, her old hobbies, or her old face—nothing. No one. Most especially herself.
For Finch, suicidal thoughts are a dime a dozen. He thinks about killing himself during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He even writes fun facts about other people's suicides in his journal, Doogie Howser-style.
It's almost funny…except that it's totally not.
We quickly learn that while Finch isn't great at taking care of himself, he's really useful in a crisis. He uses his considerable charm to talk Violet down off the ledge. Then she returns the favor. After that, they embark on a pretty intense romance. (Suicide attempts make you tight like that.) The couple also gets a little nudge from their U.S. Geography teacher, who has instructed pairs of students to go see the sites of Indiana. Guess who Finch chooses as his partner?
Soon enough, Finch and Violet begin to "wander." (That's what they call it, anyway. We think it's not really wandering if you have a plan and a map, but we're not going to be jerks about it.) Together, they see a lot of stuff, including two homemade roller coasters and the highest hill in Indiana. It's all sort of unimpressive, but they're falling in love, so everything seems extra great.
During these outings, Finch acts as a sort of counselor to Violet. He helps her talk about her sister's death (something her parents don't seem capable of), travel by car again (something she's been avoiding for nine months), and write again (same). Just being around him is such an inspiration that Violet decides to start a new web magazine for girls. She's healing, basically.
As Violet improves, Finch's situation gets worse. He has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, so the highs are high…and the lows are low. Like, really, really low. To make things worse, he's got 99 problems (even though Violet ain't one). He's been getting bullied since birth, basically, both by his father (who beats him) and his classmates (who also beat him).
One thing's going great, though, and that's his relationship with Violet. On a warm afternoon, after swimming at the Blue Hole (another "wander"), they end up having sex. Then they accidentally fall asleep…until the next morning. This doesn't exactly endear Finch to Violet's parents. They're totally furious, and they forbid her from seeing Finch.
Now he has 100 problems.
Finch falls into a downward spiral that starts with him moving into his bedroom closet and ends with him getting expelled from school. He still sees Violet—she disobeys her parents and sneaks around—but it's easy to hide his depression from her because they can't hang out that much. Sometimes she wonders if he's just losing interest. She writes it off as normal teenager stuff.
One night Finch takes a bunch of sleeping pills. He changes his mind almost immediately, admitting himself to the ER to get his stomach pumped. Soon after that he attends a suicide support group in a nearby town to try to get help. And who does he run into but Amanda Monk, his high school's resident Mean Girl. Neither of them are all that excited about it.
In an unusual fit of humanity, Amanda tells Violet about Finch's suicide attempt. Now Violet's worried. Eventually, she confronts Finch and they get into a huge fight. She wants to help, but he's not having it.
Violet tries to enlist the help of her parents, but it's too late. Finch runs away from home, but his family doesn't care. No one's looking for him except for Violet, and Finch doesn't want to be found. Secretly, he goes to see the remaining "wanders" for his project with Violet. He even sends her texts about it, but she won't make sense of them until after his death.
Yeah, we figured we might as well go ahead and say it: Finch dies.
Here's how it goes down: One morning, more than a month after he disappears, Finch sends emails to pretty much everyone he knows. They're all some version of goodbye. Panicked, Violet goes through his stuff and figures out he's probably drowned himself at the Blue Hole. She goes there and proves herself right. It's awful.
Life goes on, as it does. Violet decodes Finch's mystery texts, visiting all the places he went by himself in his last days. At the final "wander," she finds a song Finch wrote for her. It helps her feel less guilty about his death, which until now she's pretty much considered her fault.
Violet graduates and continues to work on her magazine even though she's super sad about Finch, her sister, and life in general. It's going to be a while before she feels happy again. Still, by the time the book ends, we have the feeling everything's gonna be all right.