As Finch struggles with an undiagnosed mental illness, he behaves erratically: disappearing for long periods of time, skipping school, and acting out violently. Yet as Violet gets to know Finch and talks to others about him, she’s disturbed to realize that no one else seems as concerned about Finch as she is. Finch’s family and community’s failure to take his odd behavior seriously (or indeed, in the case of his family, to notice that he’s behaving oddly at all) arguably creates a situation where Finch is able to run away and commit suicide without anyone fearing for his safety. With this, All the Bright Places shows that keeping people safe is, ideally, a communal responsibility. But the novel makes it clear that it’s not enough to have a support system only in name—people must be able to trust that their support system will take them seriously and get them the help they need, no matter the problem.
Though All the Bright Places suggests that a good support system includes friends, family members, and mental health professionals, it also shows that simply having these things doesn’t make for an effective support system. For instance, though Violet’s parents are happily married and very supportive—but because Violet thinks of them as “perfect,” she doesn’t feel comfortable bringing her mental health issues to them. Their desire for life to return to normal after Violet’s sister Eleanor’s death nine months before the novel begins makes Violet believe that the overwhelming grief she still feels for Eleanor is inappropriate. So, she hides it from her parents and internalizes it instead. Finch’s family is far less functional and dedicated, but he does regularly see a school counselor named Mr. Embry for support. But although Mr. Embry seems to genuinely care about Finch’s well-being—at the very least, he wants to make sure that Finch isn’t at risk of hurting or killing himself—he doesn’t give Finch the level of support he needs. Though Finch likes Mr. Embry, he’s also certain that Mr. Embry wouldn’t believe Finch if Finch were to say that he doesn’t actually want to die. So, to Finch, Mr. Embry may care—but he’s also not someone Finch trusts to take him seriously. Finally, though both Violet and Finch outwardly appear to have friends, they both find their friendships lacking. As Violet struggles to process her grief, she realizes she doesn’t have much in common with her friends anymore, and so she starts to pull away. And while Finch appreciates his friends Brenda and Charlie, he nevertheless keeps them at arm’s length. He never lets on that he’s contemplating suicide and makes it seem normal that he disappears for stretches of time, and so his friends don’t think to worry about him.
The novel also suggests that accepting help and support isn’t always something that people innately know how to do—rather, it’s something learned. This is one of the biggest reasons why Finch distances himself from Mr. Embry, his friends, and even Violet to some degree. Moreover, Finch’s mom is neglectful, and Finch’s dad is prone to violent, rageful outbursts. As a kid, Finch was often his dad’s favorite target—at one point, he also hurt Finch’s mom so badly that she had to be hospitalized. This showed him that although his parents might be physically present in his life, they’re not going to support him and keep him safe. Finch’s family also makes it clear that in addition to not protecting each other from physical harm, they also don’t take mental health issues seriously. As Finch begins to experience headaches that signal a decline in his mental health, he thinks that he could tell his mom—but he also knows that if he were to tell her, she’d tell him to take painkillers and remind him that he’s “sensitive.” In Finch’s family, “there’s no such thing as being sick unless you can measure it with a thermometer under the tongue,” which influences how Finch thinks of his own mental health. Though he knows he’s struggling with mental illness, he also believes that his family wouldn’t believe him or support him if he were to get help, simply because mental illness isn’t outwardly visible. In this way, Finch’s family teaches him to hide and ignore his worsening mental health—and to fear help.
What makes a support system effective, on the other hand, is trust. This is why, as Violet and Finch grow closer to each other over the course of their romance, Finch is able to convince Violet to talk about Eleanor’s death. And talking about Eleanor with someone she trusts not to judge her and who cares about her happiness has innumerable positive effects for Violet. Thanks to Finch, she realizes that suicide isn’t the answer to her problems, and she begins writing again and makes a number of new friends through her new web magazine, Germ. Other effects of Violet’s trauma, like being too afraid to get in a car and experiencing nightmares, also gradually improve. In part because Finch has learned he shouldn’t trust his support network, though, he’s never able to get the help he needs. He can barely listen to Mr. Embry after Mr. Embry brings up the possibility that Finch might have bipolar disorder, for instance, and he lashes out angrily at Violet when she admits she’s worried and asks him to get help. Though the novel makes it clear that Finch’s choice to commit suicide isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s nevertheless possible to see that Finch felt suicide was his only option because he didn’t trust his support system to be there for him. It isn’t enough, the novel shows, for a person to have a support system in name only. Rather, people in a support system needs to be trustworthy and compassionate, and to acknowledge that invisible problems like mental illness are as legitimate and treatable as any other.
Community, Support, and Trust ThemeTracker
Community, Support, and Trust Quotes in All the Bright Places
The thing I don’t say is: I want to stay alive. The reason I don’t say it is because, given that fat folder in front of [Mr. Embry], he’d never believe it. And here’s something else he’d never believe—I’m fighting to be here in this shitty, messed-up world. Standing on the ledge of the bell tower isn’t about dying. It’s about having control. It’s about never going to sleep again.
“But that isn’t why. The why is that none of it matters. Not school, not cheerleading, not boyfriends or friends or parties or creative writing programs or…” She waves her arms at the world. “It’s all just time filler until we die.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Whether it’s filler or not, I’m pretty glad to be here.” If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you need to make the most of it. “It mattered enough for you not to jump.”
Worthless. Stupid. These are the words I grew up hearing. They’re the words I try to outrun, because if I let them in, they might stay there and grow and fill me up and in, until the only thing left of me is worthless stupid worthless stupid worthless stupid freak. And then there’s nothing to do but run harder and fill myself with other words: This time will be different. This time, I will stay awake.
Dad asks about the November/December study-away program, and it takes me a minute to realize he’s talking to me. “Uh, it was okay.” Good one, Kate. I make a note to thank her. He doesn’t know about the shutting down or the trouble at school beyond sophomore year because last year, after the guitar-smashing episode, 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.
I made the mistake of talking about it once. A few years ago, I asked my then good friend Gabe Romero if he could feel sound and see headaches […] and he went home and told his parents, and they told my teacher, who told the principal, who told my parents, who said to me, Is it true, Theodore? Are you telling stories to your friends? The next day it was all over school, and I was officially Theodore Freak. One year later, I grew out of my clothes because, it turns out, growing fourteen inches in a summer is easy. It’s growing out of a label that’s hard.
In 2013, a man in Pennsylvania committed suicide via carbon monoxide, but when his family tried to rescue him, they were overcome by the fumes and every single one of them died before rescue crews could save them.
I think of my mom and Decca and Kate, and then I hit the opener, and up goes the door, and out I go into the wild blue yonder. For the first mile or so, I feel high and excited, like I just ran into a burning building and saved lives, like I’m some sort of hero.
But then a voice in me says, You’re no hero. You’re a coward. You only saved them from yourself.
I can go downstairs right now and let my mom know how I’m feeling—if she’s even home—but she’ll tell me to help myself to the Advil in her purse and that I need to relax and stop getting myself 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. Things fall into categories of black and white—bad mood, bad temper, loses control, feels sad, feels blue.
For once, I don’t want to be anyone but Theodore Finch, the boy she sees. He understands what it is to be elegant and euphoric and a hundred different people, most of them flawed and stupid, part asshole, part screwup, part freak, a boy who wants to be easy for the folks around him so that he doesn’t worry them and, most of all, easy for himself. A boy who belongs—here in the world, here in his own skin. He is exactly who I want to be and what I want my epitaph to say: The Boy Violet Markey Loves.
“What are you most afraid of?”
I think, I’m most afraid of Just be careful. I’m most afraid of the Long Drop. I’m most afraid of Asleep and impending, weightless doom. I’m most afraid of me.
The thing I know about bipolar disorder is that it’s a label. One you give crazy people. I know this because I’ve taken junior-year psychology and I’ve seen movies and I’ve watched my father in action for almost eighteen years, even though you could never slap a label on him because he would kill you. Labels like bipolar say This is why you are the way you are. This is who you are. They explain people away as illnesses.
Most people haven’t heard of [the Nest Houses], but one old man tells me, “Sorry you came all this way. I’m afraid they been ate up by the weather and the elements.”
Just like all of us. The Nest Houses have reached their life expectancy. 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.
I want to get away from these kids who never did anything to anyone except be born with different brains and different wiring […] 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. I want to get away from all the labels.
“Why do you do that? Don’t you get tired of people talking about you?”
She goes quiet.
“I do it because it reminds me to be here, that I’m still here and I have a say in the matter.”
She puts one leg in the car and says, “I guess now you know you’re not the only freak.” It’s the nicest thing she’s ever said to me.
“Listen, I’m the freak. I’m the weirdo. I’m the troublemaker. I start fights. I let people down. Don’t make Finch mad, whatever you do. Oh, there he goes again, in one of his moods. Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.”
“He’ll be back. He always comes back.” That’s just his thing. It’s what he does.
I want to say to her and Charlie and Brenda, to Kate, to his mom: Doesn’t anyone care why he comes and goes? Have you ever stopped to think that something might be wrong with this?
All I know is what I wonder: 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.
I couldn’t stop the cardinal’s death, and this made me feel responsible. In a way, I was—we were, my family and I—because it was our house that was built where his tree used to be, the one he was trying to get back to. But maybe no one could have stopped it.
“You have been in every way all that anyone could be…If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.”
In all his words, the preacher doesn’t mention suicide. The family is calling his death an accident because they didn’t find a proper note […]. I stand, thinking how it wasn’t an accident at all and how “suicide victim” is an interesting term. The victim part of it implies they had no choice. And maybe Finch didn’t feel like he had a choice, or maybe he wasn’t trying to kill himself at all but just going in search of the bottom.
Then he adds, “I feel responsible.”
I want to send his computer and books crashing to the floor. You can’t feel responsible. I’m responsible. Don’t try to take that from me.
He continues, “But I’m not. I did what I felt I could do. Could I have done more? Possibly. Yes. We can always do more. It’s a tough question to answer, and, ultimately, a pointless one to ask. You might be feeling some of the same emotions and having some of these same thoughts.”
She looks at me. “In those moments, none of it matters. It’s like that stuff is happening to someone else because all you feel is dark inside, and that darkness just kind of takes over. You don’t even really think about what might happen to the people you leave behind, because all you can think about is yourself.”