In All the Bright Places, the first-person narration of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey weaves together a story of their unlikely friendship and love, of saving and being saved in the face of devastating loss. 

We first hear from Theodore, otherwise known as “Finch.” He recounts how he found himself, on a cold winter day, standing on the ledge of Bartlett High School’s bell tower, six stories high, contemplating suicide. Six feet away, Violet, a fellow student who Finch recognizes as “Violet Something,” stands on the same ledge, contemplating the same thing. Finch moves toward the shaking Violet, yelling loudly so the crowd watching can hear: “Don’t save me! You’ll kill yourself!” From below, Gabe Romero, or Roamer, yells to Finch, “Get it over with, freak.” In an even, calm voice, Finch instructs Violet how to get off the ledge. She then helps him off the wall, smiles, and tells him she’ll kill him if he tells anyone what really happened. Finch’s best friend, Charlie Donahue, appears. He’s concerned but Finch tells him everyone has to die someday. In his counseling appointment with Mr. Embry, or Embryo, they discuss what happened and where Finch has been for the past five weeks. 

Next, Violet begins her story, and we discover that she too, meets with a school counselor, Mrs. Kresney. It is their twelfth meeting since the car accident in which Eleanor, Violet’s sister, was killed. Violet tells Mrs. Kresney, “I’m not ready” to resume normal activities. 

Later that same day, in U.S. Geography, Finch chooses Violet as his partner for the “Wander Indiana” project. Violet tries to get out of the project, but their teacher tells her it’s time to “get back on the camel.” Finch then remembers about the accident.

Finch, in an effort to get to know Violet, opens a Facebook account, and sends her a Friend request which she accepts. But when Finch posts a video to her page of him singing a song about a boy jumping from a roof, she demands he remove it. They meet up, and Violet tells Finch that the day on the ledge would have been her sister’s nineteenth birthday, but nothing much matters anymore. Finch insists something must matter or she would have jumped. 

Violet and Finch embark on the wandering project, which requires them to travel around their home state of Indiana and discover unique sites. Their first wandering is to Hoosier Hill, the highest point in Indiana. When Finch takes Violet’s hand to pull her up to the elevation marker, she feels a little shock at the touch of his hand. During this time, over the course of the next wanderings, their friendship and mutual attraction grow. 

Finch, we learn, has an abusive father, who no longer lives with them, and a mother who’s in denial of his suffering. He is ostracized by his peers who label him a “freak,” in part because of his struggle under the weight of mental illness. While in the manic state of his undiagnosed bipolar disorder, Finch struggles to remain there, to “stay Awake” to not Sleep for Violet’s sake. He is obsessed with thoughts of suicide, and rearranges his bedroom to make a smaller space, eventually moving into his closet. Smaller spaces feel safer, when the Asleep is coming. 

On the first warm day, Finch takes Violet to the Blue Hole, a three-acre lake. When Finch, who has a preoccupation with water, dives under and holds his breath for a long time, Violet becomes frightened and then angry. Finch tells her to let it all out, and she confides in him about the angry person inside of her. He tells her about the scar on his stomach, and his dad’s dark moods. 

Back at Finch’s house after their swim, the “Someday” that Finch and Violet have been talking about has come, and they make love. On the way back to Violet’s house, Finch detours to Purina Tower where they climb to the top and wrap themselves in a blanket. They both fall asleep, and awaken the next morning realizing that Violet’s parents have no idea where she is. Her parents have panicked, and though Finch tries frantically to smooth things over, they tell him to go away, and they forbid Violet from seeing him again. 

Finch begins to slip further into his depressive, withdrawn Sleep state, when he is “denied access” to Violet, who has become his reason to stay Awake. One night, he takes too many sleeping pills, but then having second thoughts, tries to throw them up. He somehow gets himself to the hospital, where they pump his stomach. He attends a Life Is Life meeting and sees Amanda Monk there, a fellow student and girlfriend of Roamer, who is Finch’s nemesis. He learns that Amanda is bulimic and has attempted suicide twice. Meanwhile, Violet, concerned about Finch whom she hasn’t heard from in several days, drives herself to his house. He confesses that he sometimes has dark moods he can’t shake, and asks Violet to keep his secret just as he has kept hers.

Amanda confides in Violet that Finch has attempted suicide. When Violet talks to Finch about it, Finch’s mood turns dark, and he tells her that she couldn’t save Eleanor and she can’t save him. In anger, Violet leaves. When she returns home, she tells her parents everything—that Finch is the one who saved her from the ledge, and that he needs help. They try to reach Finch’s parents, but Finch’s mom tells them it’s just what he does sometimes.

Finch disappears. He has been gone for several weeks. Violet receives a series of texts from him, then silence. She tries to move on, starts her new online magazine, Germ, and expands her circle of friends at school.
Kate, Finch’s older sister, appears at Violet’s front door on a Sunday morning, wondering if Violet has heard from him. He has not checked in this week, as he has been doing regularly every Saturday. Kate shows Violet the “weird email” they received from him that morning, but Violet admits that she and Finch aren’t in touch any longer.

Violet logs onto Facebook, and finds a message from Finch, also sent that morning, quoting from The Waves, by Virginia Woolf. He signs off with these words, “‘Come,’ I say, ‘come.’” Violet types “Stay,” I say, “stay.”  Finch does not reply.

Violet drives to Finch’s house, having discovered that both Brenda and Charlie, Finch’s friends, have also received strange emails from him recently. Violet searches Finch’s room for clues to where he has gone: a place with water. Finch’s mom asks Violet to go bring him home. 

As Violet suspects, divers find Finch’s body in the Blue Hole. At the funeral, Violet talks to Finch in her head, telling him that he was the one who showed her how to make the most out of life. She meets with Mr. Embry who tells her she’s a survivor, and gives her a booklet, SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide. Violet knows that she is forever changed. She decides to finish their wanderings and uses clues from Finch’s last series of texts to find the places he had added to the map. 

At the Taylor Prayer Chapel, the last wandering site, Violet finds a note and musical score addressed to her from Finch, tucked in the chapel’s Bible. She memorizes the words, returns home, and plays the notes on her flute. 

At the end of the story, we are with Violet at the Blue Hole. She thinks about the epitaph she has written for Finch and realizes that her own epitaph is yet to be written. Treading water under the wide, blue sky, she dreams of all the places she has yet to wander.