Every kid at school seems to be grieving Finch. Someone builds a shrine in a display case near the principal’s office, and kids leave notes to Finch in it. Violet wants to put all those notes in Finch’s pile of bad words. Otherwise, Violet doesn’t feel much these days; she cries when she’s not feeling empty, and she breaks things off with Ryan. Nobody wants to be around Violet—they seem to be afraid that she’s contagious. Violet sits with Brenda, Lara, and the Brianas at lunch, and a few days after Finch’s funeral, Amanda sits down at the table and offers her condolences. She also says that she broke up with Roamer. Brenda says it’s too late and leaves.
In this passage, both Violet and Brenda act as though they blame their peers at school for Finch’s death. The shrine, to Violet, makes it seem like they only appreciate Finch now that he’s gone. Amanda’s news that she broke up with Roamer, meanwhile, may make Amanda feel better—but hurting Roamer isn’t going to bring back Finch. Violet’s feelings of emptiness, meanwhile, show that she’s traumatized about Finch’s death, much like she was traumatized after losing Eleanor.
Principal Wertz insists that all Finch’s friends and classmates attend a counseling session. Violet thinks that since Finch’s death was an “accident,” this means everyone can mourn him in public. She requests to see Mr. Embry. Mr. Embry starts by saying he feels responsible for Finch’s death. Violet feels angry—she’s responsible for Finch’s death—but Mr. Embry goes on to say that he’s not actually responsible. He could’ve done more, but trying to assign blame is pointless. Violet says that she could’ve done more and should’ve noticed what was going on, but Mr. Embry points out that Finch went to great pains to hide what he was going through.
Violet starts to pick out the ways that suicide deaths are treated differently than accidental deaths. Deaths by suicide, she suggests, are thought of as shameful and inappropriate to discuss. Other deaths, though, give people the opportunity to mourn in public. This again suggests that the stigma surrounding mental health issues keeps people from getting the help they need. Mr. Embry suggests that this is also why Finch hid that he was struggling.
Mr. Embry opens up a booklet and reads from it. It says as a survivor, a person’s emotional well-being depends on how well they learn to cope with the tragedy they suffered. But although getting through this will be hard, “the worst is already over.” Mr. Embry hands Violet the booklet, which is titled “SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide.” He asks her to read it and to talk to people about it. Since Finch’s death was “different,” Violet is going to feel even more difficult emotions.
Mr. Embry’s booklet encapsulates some of the novel’s main ideas about how people should think about grief and tragedy. The tragedy itself, this quote makes clear, is the worst part—so although healing will be difficult, it’s not as hard as living through the tragedy itself. Asking Violet to talk to people about the booklet is also a way to connect Violet to her community and give her more support.
When Violet notes that Finch’s family insists it was an accident, Mr. Embry says it doesn’t matter. He just cares that Violet is okay. He tells her that she can’t be responsible for everyone. Eleanor didn’t have a choice—and perhaps Finch didn’t feel like he had a choice either. Violet knows that Mr. Embry is going through every meeting with Finch in his mind, looking for signs. She doesn’t ask if it’s normal to see reminders of Finch everywhere.
One of the most difficult parts of healing after Finch’s death, Mr. Embry and Violet find, is that they’ll never know exactly why Finch took his own life. They’ll never know how he felt in his last days or hours, and they’ll never be able to answer their questions about him. Suicide, the novel shows, cuts off communication forever.
That afternoon, Violet reads the entire booklet, and one line sticks with her. It says that the only way to heal is to accept that life has changed forever, but it does go on—just differently. Violet gives the book to her mom at dinner, and Violet’s mom spends all of dinner reading it. Violet’s dad tries to talk to Violet about college, but she excuses herself. Violet is suddenly happy she’s not a parent—it must be horrible to love someone but not be able to help them. She realizes she felt that way about Finch.
The line sticks with Violet possibly because she’s already seen how true it is. Finch showed her that life went on after trauma—that it was possible to live a new, fulfilling life after Eleanor died. Now, Violet is going to have to go through the same process again after Finch’s death.
The school holds an assembly two weeks after Finch’s funeral. They bring in a person to teach self-defense and then show a film about “the realities of drug use.” Charlie leans over to Violet and says there’s a rumor that Finch died because he was on drugs. Violet is only able to sit through a few minutes before she has to leave the gym and vomit into a trash can. She discovers Amanda sitting nearby and joins her.
Because Violet knows that Finch’s death was a suicide, it’s offensive to her that the school is trying to use his death as a teaching moment. Drug use might be potentially deadly—but as Finch demonstrated, so is feeling alienated and stigmatized because of one’s mental illness.
After a minute, Violet asks Amanda what goes through a person’s mind when they think about killing themselves. Amanda says she felt small and worthless, like the only logical thing to do was to die. It seemed like nobody would notice or care that she was gone. Violet points out that Amanda is popular and has a great, supportive family—but Amanda says that when she’s thinking about suicide, those things doesn’t matter. Everything feels dark, and all she can think about is herself. She asks if Finch ever saw a doctor and says that Finch was trying to fix himself because of Violet. This makes Violet feel even worse.
Here, Amanda and Violet begin to repair their relationship. Amanda represents a link to Finch, since she’s experienced some of the same kinds of suicidal thoughts that he did (Violet implied that when she was on the belltower, she wasn’t thinking and so doesn’t have this firsthand experience). Amanda paints suicidal thoughts as alienating and almost impossible to escape from.
In U.S. Geography the next day, Mr. Black reminds the class that their projects are due soon. After class, he asks Violet to stay back and tells her she can turn in whatever she has. He understands that she has “extenuating circumstances.” This annoys Violet; everyone is treating her like she’s fragile. She tells Mr. Black that she’s fine and will finish the project like everyone else. She just wishes she and Finch had documented their wanderings better.
It's a mark of how much Violet has healed that she now finds Mr. Black’s willingness to give her leeway on her project offensive. While at the beginning of the novel she didn’t want to participate in day-to-day school activities, she now recognizes that she’ll only be able to heal if she actively engages with her life.
That evening, Violet reads through all of her Facebook messages with Finch. Then, she opens their wandering notebook and writes a letter to Finch. She asks where he went and why he killed himself, and if he knows that she’s going to be changed forever now. Violet used to think that she was changed because Finch got her out of her room, but she never expected that her life would change like this. In closing, she says she’ll never forgive him for leaving. She just wishes he could forgive her, since he saved her life. Violet studies her Germ bulletin board. Suddenly, she gets up and digs out the wandering map. She studies it and sees that Finch circled and numbered five more places for Violet to see on her own.
It's another indicator of Violet’s progress that only three weeks after Finch’s death, she’s able to sit down and write him a letter. She obviously can’t send it, but it nevertheless gives her a place to get her thoughts out of her head and on paper, where they might be easier to process. In this way, she shows just how beneficial it can be to put one’s thoughts into words. While Finch’s inability to write and leave a suicide note is connected to his mental illness, Violet’s ability to write now illustrates her wellness.