Study Guide

All the Bright Places Themes

  • Mental Illness

    Finch has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and while he seems to recognize his disease on some level—he's not surprised when the school counselor brings it up—he never acknowledges the possibility that treatment could help.

    He sees getting diagnosed as a label, and he'd rather suffer (and ultimately die) than deal with the stigma attached to it. Still, it's worth noting that Finch does pursue treatment options under the radar. He goes to the hospital to have his stomach pumped after he takes a bunch of sleeping pills, and he even attends a suicide support group in a nearby town. He doesn't want to be ill, and he fights his suicidal tendencies as best he can.

    Questions About Mental Illness

    1. What strategies does Finch use to hide his mental illness from people?
    2. How do Finch's manic episodes differ from his periods of depression? What are the symptoms associated with each?
    3. How does Finch cope with his mental illness? What strategies does he use to deal with symptoms?

    Chew on This

    Finch fell through the cracks at his school because he was treated like a delinquent instead of a sick teen.

    Violet and her family blame Finch's family for failing to recognize his illness, but they don't realize he went to great lengths to keep it a secret.

  • Family

    When it comes to families, sometimes the grass is greener on the other side. Violet envies Finch's freedom, while he's jealous of her closeness with her mom and dad.

    Violet's parents are caring, but they seem repressed and tight-lipped about their daughter's death. Finch's dad is the opposite; he lets his feelings be known—sometimes with his fists. Finch's mom is wrapped up in her own problems to the point of neglect.

    Still, there are certain similarities between the two families. One is secrets. Finch and Violet each keep things from their parents, even though it's for different reasons. The other thing they have in common is love. Violet's love for her parents and her dead sister is a huge part of her life. It drives her moods and her actions. Finch, too, loves his family, except for his dad…which seems reasonable, 'cause his dad is the worst.

    Questions About Family

    1. In what ways does Finch show his family how much he loves them?
    2. Do you think the author paints Finch's family as villains? Why or why not?
    3. Which two family members (in either family—Violet's or Finch's) seem to have the closest relationship? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    Finch hid his illness from his family. They couldn't support him properly because they didn't know he needed help.

    Finch's family members didn't offer the support he needed. Instead, they enabled his behavior.

  • Guilt and Blame

    Violet and Finch are guilty as sin. Or at least they feel that way. In truth, they're just kids trying to cope with big, adult-sized problems.

    Violet has to deal with her sister's death, for which she feels responsible…and she feels the same way after Finch dies (even though those deaths were caused by an accident and suicide, respectively). She also feels guilty for her suicidal thoughts and lying to her parents.

    Finch experiences some guilt, too, mostly because his mental illness takes a toll on his loved ones. As readers, we can see that toll is real, but unlike Finch, we understand that it's not his fault.

    Questions About Guilt and Blame

    1. Finch's sister Kate thinks that their father's responsible for his headaches. Do you agree? Why or why not?
    2. If you were Violet's friend or counselor, what would you say to her about her feelings of guilt?
    3. Is there a time in the novel when Violet's guilt seems warranted? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    When it comes to Finch's suicide, mental illness—not the people in his life—is to blame.

    When it comes to Finch's suicide, his parents' behavior is at least partially responsible. They should have helped him get the treatment he needed.

  • Identity

    Throughout the novel, Violet and Finch each search for a sense of identity. Violet lost hers in the car accident that killed her sister. For her, Eleanor was a point of comparison—someone to define herself against. Now that Eleanor's gone, Violet feels as though she's disappeared, too; she no longer enjoys cheering, or writing, or anything, for that matter.

    Finch struggles with finding himself, too. Maybe he's too sick to have a fully formed identity, or maybe he's trying to outrun labels like "mentally ill." Maybe, to some extent, it's regular teenager stuff. In any case, he wasn't himself—or at least the best version of himself—when he died. We know the "real" Finch wanted to live.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Why does Amanda Monk keep her problems from her friends? Why does she use a fake name at the suicide support group?
    2. Which of Finch's personas feels most like the "real" Finch? Slacker Finch? '80s Finch? All-American Finch? Or some other version?
    3. In what ways does Violet change over the course of the novel?

    Chew on This

    Violet feels like a changed person by the end of the novel, but she's regained her sense of self.

    The reason Finch changes his appearance so frequently comes down to his fear of labels.

  • Mortality

    There's a lot of death in All the Bright Places. (Violet lost her sister, then Finch…and even when Finch was alive, he thought about death all the time.) There's death on pretty much every page, but we want to zoom in on two interesting and important points the book makes about suicide.

    The first is busting the stereotype that people who commit suicide long for death. Finch didn't want to die; it's almost as though he committed suicide against his own will. That's because it was his disease—not his head or heart or soul or whatever—that wanted him dead.

    The second is pointing out the stigma that surrounds suicide. At Finch's suicide support group, one teen points out that no one brought flowers after she tried to kill herself. Even Finch's family denies that his death was suicide; they call it an accident. Suicide is hard to talk about, which is one reason that some suicidal people have a hard time asking for help.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. Do you think the author romanticizes suicide by quoting so many writers who killed themselves?
    2. Did you guess that Finch was going to die? Why or why not?
    3. How was Eleanor's death similar to Finch's? How were they different?

    Chew on This

    In helping Violet come to terms with her sister's death, Finch gave her the tools to cope with his own death.

    Though Finch often thought about death, he didn't long for it. He fought his suicidal urges as best he could.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    All the Bright Places is heavy on quotes from famous writers who killed themselves. (Bit of a downer, that.) On the other hand, its unofficial mascot is Dr. Seuss, whose book Oh, the Places You'll Go! is one of Finch and Violet's greatest hits. The moral of that book can be summed up thusly: The future's so bright, you've gotta wear shades.

    In other words, it's all about hope.

    When we think about hopes and dreams and plans, we think of Violet. Her journey in the novel is about rediscovering her own capacity to engage with the world around her. For a long time after her sister's death, she takes a dim view of existence. She's just not feeling it. Her time with Finch helps her see that there's good in the world. Her unhappiness doesn't go away, but she's able to set it aside enough to start participating in her own life again.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Do you think that Violet will transfer to NYU? Why or why not?
    2. What long-term plans did Finch have for his future?
    3. At what point does Violet lose hope that Finch is coming back?

    Chew on This

    Finch's notion of the "perfect day" was unrealistic. There are no perfect days, and his inability to accept that was a flaw.

    Finch's notion of the "perfect day" wasn't too much to ask for. It would have been easier to achieve if he'd sought treatment for his bipolar disorder.

  • Change

    In All the Bright Places, change is arguably good, or bad, or both. (Part of what makes it so confusing is that most of the good changes stem from some sort of bad change.) Only one thing's for sure: Change is inevitable.

    Finch probably understands this better than anyone. He helps Violet accept the change that has rocked her life—the death of her sister—by teaching her how to appreciate life in the moment. It's sad how quickly she had to draw on that knowledge a second time, following the death of Finch.

    Questions About Change

    1. Who do you think changes the most over the course of the novel? Explain your answer.
    2. What changes in Finch's family life have recently occurred? How does he feel about those changes?
    3. Is there anything or anyone that stays the same over the course of the novel? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    In the world of the book, change is a force for good. It helps Violet overcome her sadness and move on with her life.

    In the world of the book, change is a force for bad. It only brings death and heartache.

  • Exploration

    The plot of the book is structured around Finch and Violet's "wanders." Long story short: their U.S. Geography teacher has asked the class to pair off, visit wondrous sites around their home state, and report back for a grade.

    Our dynamic duo takes the project very seriously, in part because they're using it as an excuse to make out all over the state of Indiana.

    Finch has a good time during their wandering, but the person who benefits from it most is Violet. She's slowly learning how to reinhabit her own life, which she felt like she had to abandon after the death of her sister. Traveling around the state with the boy she loves, Violet sees the world through a new set of eyes.

    Questions About Exploration

    1. Which of the "wanders" do you think Violet enjoys the most? What about Finch? Explain your answers.
    2. Why is this school project so healing for Violet? What does it teach her?
    3. Do you think Violet would have still learned from the project if her partner hadn't been Finch? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Traveling around Indiana leads Violet on an inward journey.

    Like life itself, "wandering" is what you make it of it. It can be beautiful or boring depending on your point of view.