Finch climbs into his mom’s Saturn, which he’s nicknamed Little Bastard. He pushes Little Bastard to 100 miles per hour and thinks about the Italian poet Cesare Pavese. He wrote about wanting to matter and said that “love is truly the great manifesto.” Then, five months later, he chose his obituary photo and took too many sleeping pills. Finch understands the desire to matter as he pushes Little Bastard faster and faster, feeling “more awake” every second. Just when it feels like his heart and the car might explode, Finch lets off the gas and drives off the road into a ditch, but then he continues on.
Cesare Pavese’s story presents an interesting dilemma for Finch: is it more important to focus on finding love and mattering in one’s life, or is it better to choose how one dies? As Finch pushes Little Bastard to go so fast, it suggests that he’s currently focusing on living and potentially finding love with Violet. But even as Finch does this, he still can’t stop thinking about death and suicide. For him, life and death are intimately connected.
Finch pulls up to Violet’s house and finds her sitting on the porch. She meets him on the sidewalk, looks around like she’s looking for someone, and says she doesn’t need to talk—she’s fine. Finch says he knows what cries for help look like and starts to walk. She pulls him in the opposite direction but then follows him down the sidewalk. Violet insists that she’s not suicidal. Finch tries to get her to talk about herself and about her website, but she answers “like a robot.” He insists that she should be thrilled to be alive and notes that lots of girls would be happy to be out with him.
Finch doesn’t elaborate, but it’s possible he knows what a cry for help looks like because he’s asked for help before. In this sense, Finch seems to be trying to give Violet the care and compassion that he perhaps didn’t receive when he asked for help. Because Finch is so interested in suicide, it’s notable that he essentially tells Violet that life is worth living. He knows the socially acceptable thing to say, even if he might not always believe it.
Violet snaps at Finch, asking him what he wants. Finch drops his charming persona and asks what she was doing on the ledge, and if she’s okay. Violet starts walking again, and after a few blocks, Finch promises not to tell anyone. She says that she wasn’t thinking, and it’s like she woke up on the ledge. She hasn’t told anyone what happened. With some prodding, she admits that it was Eleanor’s birthday that day—but that’s not why she was up there. Violet insists that nothing matters; everything is “just time filler until we die.” Finch says that he's glad to be here in any case.
Finally, Violet starts to articulate some of her difficult emotions surrounding Eleanor’s death. She suggests that it’s hard to believe it’s actually worth it to enjoy life when she can’t do so without Eleanor. Again, the fact that Violet hasn’t told anyone about being on the ledge speaks to how much she fears the way other people might treat her if they knew the truth. It’s easier for her to hide her true thoughts than be vulnerable around someone else.
Violet asks Finch why people call him “Theodore Freak.” Finch decides on “a version of the truth.” He says that in eighth grade, he was small and awkward—and people don’t like that he does things without thinking. When they get back to Violet’s house, Finch suggests they head to the Quarry, the local nightclub, but Violet says she’s going to sleep. Before she heads inside, Finch asks how she got onto the belltower. With a smile, she says she picked the lock.
Both Violet and Finch start to share a little more of their true selves in this passage. Finch hints at there being one specific reason why people gave him the cruel nickname “Theodore Freak,” and Violet shows Finch that she’s more than a popular girl with mental health struggles—she also has skills that she keeps secret from most people.
When Finch gets home, he parks Little Bastard and goes for his nightly run (he swims when it’s warm). As he runs, he tries to outrun the words “worthless” and “stupid.” Finch tells himself that this time, he’ll stay awake. He runs and doesn’t count the miles. He takes a new route home, over the A Street Bridge. There’s still a huge hole in the guardrail and a cross near it. Finch runs down to the dried riverbed that’s full of trash. He finds glass, metal, and a license plate. Suddenly, the accident is real to Finch. He grabs the license plate and runs home. He runs until all he can feel is his heartbeat and the cold metal of the license plate.
The fact that Finch runs to “escape” words like “worthless” and “stupid” speaks to the power that words can have over a person’s life. Finch implies that if he doesn’t run from these words, they’ll overtake him and make him feel even worse than he already does. Through this, he shows that he’s trying to help himself feel better, though it’s hard to tell yet if his running is actually helpful for him.