Finch and Violet are two suicidal teens who find each other in the book All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, and while their interaction leads to Violet's healing, it also ultimately leads to Finch's undoing.
The protagonist is the character from whom the structure and momentum of the story spring. It is the protagonist's actions that drive the story forward and for whom the largest conflict resides. The protagonist also has the strongest goal.
What makes All the Bright Places interesting is that the role of the protagonist seems to shift from Finch early on to Violet by the end. A few examples from the first part of the story that set Finch up as the protagonist include:
- When both Finch and Violet climb the school bell tower to kill themselves, it is Finch that talks her down from the ledge first. His actions initiate the first step toward her healing and their relationship. Finch later takes action again when he helps her get into an automobile, something she swore she'd never do after her sister died in a car crash nine months prior.
- We follow Finch's home and school life closely, including the conflict and pain created by his family's misunderstanding of his bipolar disorder, the beatings he takes from his father, and the fact that he's constantly bullied at school. Violet's life is much less problematic and less of a focus.
- Finch is the one with the goal, as he is the character who actively pursues the romance with Violet, initiating the school project partnership with her and seeking her out on social media.
- Finch's initial character arc and the early plot structure strongly suggests he is the protagonist. He starts with a dilemma that gets better through his relationship with someone else, but when he becomes alienated from her, sees his condition worsen. The ups and downs of the story are structured around Finch at first.
- The low points of the story, which must belong to the protagonist, are Finch's. After Violet's parents forbid them from seeing each other, his depression worsens. He struggles with thoughts of suicide and even his own suicidal actions, as when he takes a bunch of sleeping pills. He gets expelled, runs away and devolves emotionally.
It is at this point that Niven, deftly and strangely, seems to shift the role of the protagonist to Violet, where the story, the action and the goals become squarely hers. A few examples:
- Violet is the one who must take action when Finch spirals so far down that he is unable to pick himself up. She tries to return the favor of helping him when she learns of the pill incident and goes searching for him when he runs away.
- The focus of the story clearly shifts to her after Finch's disappearance, and the climax, including the emotional distress and task of decoding Finch's mystery texts, lies squarely on her shoulders.
- Violet is the one who ultimately learns from the experience and comes out a changed person, an arc typically reserved for the protagonist. While it can be argued that this is a tragedy and thus still Finch's story, the uplifting themes of resilience and recovery represented by Violet's renewed take on life would suggest that the role of protagonist became hers when Finch gave up.